Monday 29 June 2020

Tangle of Chapters


It's done.

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

I would not say I enjoyed it.

Things that I learned:

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

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

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

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

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

We'll see.


Saturday 27 June 2020

Musical Interlude: Lullaby of Woe

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

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

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

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

Thursday 25 June 2020

The Labyrinth of the Spirits

This was a wild ride. Many mixed impressions.

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

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

[Update: I originally said that I read this when it first came out in 2001. The joy of keeping a blog is that you can look back and see just how wrong you were. It was recommended to me by my publisher in 2014, which is when I actually 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 six 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

[UPDATE: This was eventually solved a few days later and everything was restored.]

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


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!

Thursday 11 June 2020

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Cover Reveal: Secure the Shadow


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.  

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.