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



Yikes.

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.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Call for Book Bloggers


I'm teaming up with Rachel's Random Resources to give my novel, Secure the Shadow, a little celebratory send off in early August. There's still a few spaces for book reviewers, so if you run a book blog and you're interested in receiving a copy, doing an interview or have room for a guest post, please get in touch with Rachel. You can read more about the book here on her website.

In 1824, a young man buttons up his redcoat and goes to war. Amidst the blood and devastation, he discovers a magical power which can save memory from the ravages of time.

1867 and a woman, living above a watch shop, meets two men who will change her life forever. As she ventures further into a world of séance and mysticism, she must decide whether to trust her own eyes.

In the present day, a rebellious artist finds herself photographing stillbirths for a living. At Little Angels, it’s not about what you can take from a picture, but what you can give.

The story of three lives, spanning the history of photography and our relationship with mortality.

Secure the shadow, ere the substance fades. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Relentless Minds

Jeanne Celestine Lakin

Shout out to this podcast. I work with survivors' organisations in Rwanda and this was in our monthly newsletter. If you'd like to receive more news, you can sign up here.

Relentless Minds is a podcast, produced in the United States, which has recently released several interviews with survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi that occurred in Rwanda in 1994.
The following episodes address the unspeakable tragedies that these survivors experienced along with their own personal message to the world. Their messages highlight the human spirit and its ability to overcome tragedy:
 
Jacqueline Murekatete - An attorney, a human rights activist and the founder of Genocide Survivors Foundation, a partner organisation of Survivors Fund (SURF).

Liliane Pari Umuhoza - Founder of the Women Genocide Survivor’s Retreat which serves to provide psychological support to women survivors of genocide in Rwanda, and trustee of Survivors Fund (SURF).

Jeanne Celestine Lakin - Founder of One Million Orphans, a non-profit with the mission to help orphans around the world to receive resources they lack, and a shot at a better future.

Consolee Nishimwe A committed speaker on the genocide, a defender of women rights and an advocate for other genocide survivors.

Placide Magambo - A journalist seeking to help his community through the power of journalism.

The Relentless Minds podcast was created in 2019 in an effort to inspire people to fight for the change they desire to see in their lives and in the world. Through this platform the aim is to spread awareness of social and global issues, create a sense of community, and move people into action, with the ultimate goal to inspire a united movement for change all around the world.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Remarkable Creatures


This was a hidden gem:

On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, poor and uneducated Mary Anning learns that she has a unique gift: "the eye" to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip, and the scientific world alight. After enduring bitter cold, thunderstorms, and landslips, her challenges only grow when she falls in love with an impossible man.

Mary soon finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy, but ultimately turns out to be their greatest asset.

Remarkable Creatures is a stunning historical novel that follows the story of two extraordinary 19th century fossil hunters who changed the scientific world forever.

I think I first heard about Mary Anning in A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. She was mentioned in a couple of things I was reading around that time, so when I saw the book blurb my interest was piqued. In fact, Reverend Buckland, who is a key character in this book, is mentioned in the review of Bryson's book that I wrote. Bryson also cites her as the inspiration behind the tongue-twister 'she sells seashells.' I remembered it being something about how Mary Anning had done so much to further scientific discovery but received so little recognition for it. That's what this book looks into, too. Though I had never heard of Elizabeth Philpot before.

It's written by Tracy Chevalier, who also wrote Girl with a Pearl Earring, and extremely well narrated by Hattie Morahan.

I really enjoyed it. Like many kids, I had a fascination with fossils and geodes. I remember going to a few museums with my parents and looking at displays, then buying things in the gift shops, so I was familiar with amenities and belemnites, though I've never been fossil hunting. The book really brought to life - well, other than the sheer sexism of the time - how very strange these relics must have seemed before we had an understanding of dinosaurs. Caught within a highly religious world where people thought the present had always existed, they must have really been a show stopper.

An interesting story, and one that certainly made me grateful that attitudes to women have moved on a bit, and that a woman's worth is no longer defined by her marital status in many countries.


L: Mary Anning R: Elizabeth Philpot



Artist Unknown

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Audible Wipes Listening Stats - Again


So over the Audible app. 

Back in March it wiped 24 hours off my listening stats. Yesterday, it wiped absolutely everything. Badges, milestones, listening time. Not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things, but I quite liked it. Now, it may as well just be a reading app - anything could read a book out to you. The app hardly has any other features. 

It seems to be the app not the phone, as it's happened on two different phones now, one brand new. Last time the suggested fix was to reinstall everything, which meant re-downloading the audiobooks I'd been listening to. Doing that didn't fix the problem.

So, not much can be done, but not a shining example of app development from a company who can afford to do better. *rolly-eye emoji*

Monday, 15 June 2020

Jam


Continuing my run of Yahtzee Croshaw appreciation:

We were prepared for an earthquake. We had a flood plan in place. We could even have dealt with zombies. Probably. But no one expected the end to be quite so... sticky. Or strawberry scented.

Jam, a dark comedy about the one apocalypse no one predicted.

A group of friends wake up one morning to find the whole of Brisbane, Australia has been covered in a three-foot layer of carnivorous strawberry jam. One of the friends very quickly gets eaten by the jam, to illustrate just how deadly it is, but it's okay because they pick up a Goliath Bird Eating Tarantula (Mary) as a replacement cast member.

"...I was just thinking, this whole situation, it's like the one apocalypse no one called."

*

"...we all used to post on the same internet forum. We had this really long thread about what we were going to do when the apocalypse happened. We were all going to meet up here and live off the shops.  We kind of assumed it would be zombies, though."

"I think a lot of people did," I said, nodding.

There's a nice cross-over where one of the main characters is the head programmer from Mogworld and goes around wearing a Mogworld T-shirt. His name's Don and he's the epitome of what Peter Serafinowicz's character would have turned into in Shaun of the Dead if he'd lived a bit longer:

"Unlike you people, I have no illusion as to my usefulness in an actual apocalypse, and believe me, death holds no fear in a world without cappuccinos. No, the most I can hope for is to die in a pose that confuses future archaeologists."

The world has already split into tribes on day one. The characters move between a world of ironic plastic people, who always wear plastic bags because the jam only eats organic matter, and a group of coldly bloodthirsty - and topless - office administrators hiding out at Hibatsu.

Rumour had it that the Hibatsu Corporation had set up their head quarters in the centre of our central business district because this had been the nearest convenient country that didn't mandate product recalls until people other than the working class started dying. The law was changed after about three years of patient bureaucracy, but the Hibatsu building remained, the tallest building in the city, eighty stories of rented office space raising a permanent middle finger to socialism.

As with World War Z, there's a lot of attempting to figure out how to survive and gather the basics after such a disastrous event. Food and water being top priorities.
The river had contained 'impurities' in the same way that Jeffrey Dahmer had had a few minor personality quirks.
I enjoyed it. More my thing than his outer space work, but I still think my favourite is Differently Morphous.

All hail Crazy Bob!

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Children of Lir Audiobook Cast

Some extremely exciting news to share. I'm currently working with a group of incredibly talented voice over artists to create an audio version of my latest release, The Children of Lir.

This is a long-term project as The Children of Lir consists of sixteen characters in total.  It's an epic retelling of an ancient Irish legend about children who were turned to swans for 900 years by a wicked stepmother. The story is mainly told through the eyes of two of the children, Fionnuala and Aodh, with other characters weaving in and out to add detail along the way.

We've just laid down the first track, which is Trisha Barry reading Sister Cecilia.

Casting is an ongoing process, but I'll update the cast list below as the contracts are signed. It's really amazing to be working with so many extremely talented people and learning so much about audiobook production. Hopefully it will prove helpful as I continue my own recording journey with The Tangled Forest.

The cast is listed in order of appearance:

Jacqueline Duff - Fionnuala

Jaqueline Duff is the ‘Female Voiceover Artist of the Year’ & ‘Radio Promo Best Performance’ nominee in the One Voice Awards 2020. She usually VOs in English, but her mother is from Southern Ireland so she slips into the accent perfectly. You can find her via her website, Twitter and Instagram.
Ethan Kelley - Aodh

Ethan trained at East 15 acting school. He has narrated Her Last Secret by P. L. Kane and My Hero Theo by Gareth Greaves. He is new to the voice over industry and very excited to continue telling vibrant and engaging stories. He can be found on Twitter and IMDB.
Jessie Magee - Sorcha

Jessica is a writer and voiceover actor living in Dublin. Her VO career began aged eight, recording fake radio shows on cassette with her little brother. She worked as a print and broadcast journalist for twenty years before coming back to doing funny voices in front of the mic. Her first poetry collection will be published in 2021. While recording this audiobook, Jessie holidayed on a farm on Lough Ree, near where the Children of Lir were turned into swans. You can find her via LinkedIn.
 
George Weightman - Aibric

George Weightman trained in Drama & Theatre Studies at the University of Kent and in Acting at the Moscow School of Art. He has appeared in the feature films Eastern Front: Point of No Return, Acceptable Damage and We Still Kill The Old Way, and in Doctors for the BBC. He provides the voice of Obelix in the Asterix & Obelix: The Crystal Menhir game. You can find himon IMDB and Instagram.
Trisha Barry - Sister Cecilia

A native of Waterford, Ireland, Trisha Barry is a voiceover actor with a background in teaching and a lifelong love of theatre and storytelling. Trisha relocated to Minneapolis in 1995 and now brings stories to life behind the mic!  When she’s not recording, she enjoys travelling, reading, walking… and spending time with family and friends. You can find Trisha via her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Cover Reveal: Secure the Shadow



Ta-dah!

Next up is Secure the Shadow (working title Still Life). 

In 1824, a young man buttons up his redcoat and goes to war. Amidst the blood and devastation, he discovers a magical power which can save memory from the ravages of time.

1867 and a woman, living above a watch shop, meets two men who will change her life forever. As she ventures further into a world of séance and mysticism, she must decide whether to trust her own eyes.

In the present day, a rebellious artist finds herself photographing stillbirths for a living. At Little Angels, it’s not about what you can take from a picture, but what you can give.

The story of three lives, spanning the history of photography and our relationship with mortality.

Secure the shadow, ere the substance fades.

The launch is scheduled for early August, I'll update on that nearer the time. If you're a book blogger and you're interested in reviewing, drop me a line (Facebook/Twitter) and I'll include you in the list.

Beautiful cover art by Velulu Khesoh, who is a very talented cover designer.  


Sunday, 7 June 2020

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Gypsy Boy


This is an absolutely stellar biography. 

Extremely brave, engaging, heartfelt... unforgettable. 

MIKEY WAS BORN into a Romany Gypsy family. They live in a closeted community, and little is known about their way of life. After centuries of persecution Gypsies are wary of outsiders and if you choose to leave you can never come back. This is something Mikey knows only too well. Growing up, he rarely went to school, and seldom mixed with non-Gypsies. The caravan and camp were his world.

But although Mikey inherited a vibrant and loyal culture, his family's legacy was bittersweet with a hidden history of grief and abuse. Eventually Mikey was forced to make an agonising decision - to stay and keep secrets, or escape and find somewhere he could truly belong.

Apparently, it was "...the first commercial memoir written by someone on the inside of the notoriously secretive culture of the Romany Gypsies." If you get the audiobook he narrates it himself and I was impressed he managed to remain so steady whilst reading parts.

I recently watched the Netflix documentary One of Us about the Hasidic Jewish community, and there were some similar undertones, especially when it comes to male control, domestic violence and extreme homophobia.

Of course, I was curious about the mystical side of things. Massive Peaky Blinders fan and have a close friend who occasionally used to talk about his grandfather being Romany. It was interesting to read that many Romanies don't believe in an afterlife nowadays and that:

Gypsy women were not allowed to work outside the home, the only exceptions being the handful that occasionally sold trinkets and told fortunes. Gypsies are very superstitious people. Black cats are often seen as a good sign, as are horseshoes, and even Dalmatian dogs, as long as you can spit on both hands and rub them together before you lose sight of one. They are also certain that if a bird flies into your home, someone is about to die. But, contrary to popular belief, they don't believe in magic, and the Gypsy curse is no more than an age-old way of scaring non-gypsies into buying something. I have run into many people who have asked me to remove a curse placed on them by a Gypsy, because tradition says that it can only be removed by another Gypsy. Of course, I oblige. I may not believe in curses, but the poor people who have suffered at the hands of some old Gypsy woman often do.

And there were some interesting rules relating to women, such as being expected to marry before the age of eighteen, allowed to date from the age of fourteen, but no more than four suitors before choosing a husband, and that they are not supposed to wash their hair or speak to men whilst menstruating. So many cultures around the world get squeamish about women's menstruation. You can't step into a Jain temple if you're bleeding, some places in India make women sleep in a hut in the garden during that time of the month, and so on.

He also goes on to speak a lot about the sexual, mental and physical abuse he suffered growing up and it was fairly horrifying at times to realise how easily this sort of abuse goes undetected or covered up and wasn't addressed within the school system. You just want to pull him out of the pages and give him a big hug.

He's written a follow-up called Gypsy Boy on the Run, which I've just bought. Highly recommended reading.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Musical Interlude: Erin McKeown


Love this lady.

Though watching the one bellow makes me desperately wish I could step into a live music venue for a quick pint. Going to be a while before we can all do that again.


Saturday, 30 May 2020

Happy PhD




Massive shout out to my fabulous friend Doctor Doctor Harris, who, as well as being an MD is also now a PhD. It was a huge privilege to watch him defend his thesis yesterday at the University of Luxembourg, via video conference.

Totally proud of him. It's been a hell of a few years. A pleasure to hang out with him in Kigali when he was here researching, and sort of a pleasure (mostly terrifying) to do a TEDx talk because of him - yes, that was his fault!

Know how hard he's worked on this and it was an honour to be part of the journey.

There was a huge amount of Mutzig involved along the way. 

Very much looking forward to seeing him and his partner once COVID is under control. Somewhere with good food, wine and ice-cream.



Friday, 29 May 2020

Ranty Post: How Authors in Developing Countries are Disadvantaged



Morning.

Today I'm having a bit of a rant about something that's irritated me for a couple of years now. I'm looking at the way PayPal, Adobe and Amazon KDP work differently for people in developing countries than they do for westerners, and the impact that has on artists.

Love to know your thoughts.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Home Studio

Hi everyone.

Well, I promised I'd talk about something other than book reviews for a change. So, here it is... audibook creation.

Said I had some exciting news about Children of Lir - I have. I'm working with some very talented people to turn that into an audiobook.

In the meantime, I'm also working on a slightly home-produced version of The Tangled Forest. Partly because someone once asked for it:


And partly because it's the only one of my books without any silly accents, so relatively straightforward to read out loud.

However, audiobook production is really hard. It isn't simply a case of sitting in front of a mic and reading your book. There's a world of pronunciation, equipment, software and editing that needs to go into it. Living in a country where equipment is hard to obtain and houses aren't soundproofed, that can get complicated fast, so I've had to do a bit of improvisation...




So, you can hear the sample here, which was recorded in the booth and thrown through Audacity for good measure.

I think it's passable.

When I started out, I did think 'oh, this is something I can do in a couple of weeks, just sit down and read.' I've since revised that to 'possibly three months' as the editing is intense, especially for me - someone who suffers from sibilance and a narrow (and therefore rather clicky) bite. 

I am keeping track of the number of chapters I've recorded, the number I've given a first pass edit and the number I've fully edited - I'll explain all this in another post - and so far I'm about to record chapter seven. There is a high likelihood I will lose patience with this in about five chapters' time, but for now I'm pressing ahead. 

It is tough going. Recording here you have to work around cicadas, which have a very high, repetitive noise that cuts through glass, crows, who never shut the fuck up, and hadadas, a form of ibis so named because they scream HADADA HADADA HADADA on their way home to roost.

All in all, it's a recording nightmare. 

But I'm still feeling fairly determined.

So, let's see where we end up.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Traditional Rwandan Dance Lessons


Shout out to Bijoux who is running traditional Rwandan dance sessions online during the lockdown. £36 for a six-week course, book through Hilde Cannoodt's site. They assure me there's no two-way video required, so you don't even have to get dressed, though you can video in if you want some extra support. Truly missing swimming during the lockdown so I really need this. I've already put on at least one box of Winnaz and a tub of Nutella. The course starts 4th June, so sign on up to support Bijoux and learn something new.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

The Adventures of English


Right, this is the last book review for a little while as I'm going back to read The Binding again and have caught up on all the titles I got through between #IndieApril and now. 

This was just one that looked interesting. As I started to listen, I realised that it is basically this video in long form, with a bit more depth.



I really enjoyed it. Stretching all the way from the end of the Roman Empire through to today's internet English and modern divergence. English certainly has had some fascinating adventures. 

I took a hundred-and-one notes, so won't go through everything, but some of the parts I found particularly interesting included the influence that nannies have had on language throughout history. The nobility are often held up as the  standard to which a language aspires, yet the children of rich families are rarely raised entirely by their mothers. So, the French nobility in England worried that their darling children would pick up English from their English nannies - which they did - and the rich whites in America worried that their darling children would pick up African Krio or slang from their black nannies - which they did. I never thought about that before, and it was interesting.

I recently read Les Misérables, and Victor Hugo was fairly obsessed with slang. For a writer, he seemed halfway horrified by it, and then gave it a grudging nod of acknowledgement as an expressive form. Turns out, this was an issue on everybody's minds back then. Loads of English linguists also went about trying to tame the language and prevent it from slipping into slang, which was considered the language of convicts and ne'er-do-wells. It kind of explains why Hugo devoted so much of Les Mis to that issue. 

It touched on the origins of some words, perhaps the most distasteful of which I never knew was that 'bulldozer' apparently comes from a 'bull dose,' a round of whipping so harsh it could kill a slave. Not going to look at that in the same way again.

It really is a very entertaining book and highly recommended. The history of language is often seen as a rather dry subject, but Melvyn Bragg really brings it to life with astonishing vigour. Very much in the same vein as Bill Bryson on Shakespeare. 

Right, as I said, I'm going to start talking about something other than book reviews now.

Happy reading.