The City – Book Review

Live Life Loved

Here is my friend Cathy’s sequel to The Gifts . Well done Cathy!

Her amazing imagination and incredible capacity to create names and geography for a whole new world have once again been applied to this follow up story which (no plot spoilers) ends with a sense of completeness.

It starts with a very violent and shocking story in which one of the main characters becomes disgusted and disillusioned by those in meant to lead her. In the same incident a second main character is filled with hate and a desperate desire for revenge. From such a bleak beginning you might not expect things to turn out that well. But in the end this is a hopeful story and the hope comes from the power of courage and friendship.

If you’ve read the first book, you’ll enjoy picking up with all the previous characters but there is just enough backgroud…

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The City, the sequel to The Gifts, is published

The City, the sequel to The Gifts, is published at last, and available on Amazon.

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The City

The sequel to The Gifts, covering what happens to the protagonists in that story after the destruction of the gifts, as well as including the adventures of a few new characters, is nearly published!

I am especially pleased with the cover design, by Beck Hemsley.

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A short story: Art Classes

Beginning was always dubious. The paper might be damp, the wood green. Andrew frowned as he watched the curving scorch marks sidle along the torn edges, His heart thudded at his chest as he waited. It was going to work. The dark arabesques were blooming against the white, turning into orange flickers and gleams. His breath stirred the velvet flames and they bent, licked the paper, and grew.  As the fire slithered through the crumpled sheets, he ripped a drawing down from the corkboard and threw it into its path. The stick figure stretched out its arms; imploring, welcoming; its rictus grin bright red, the trees next to it blobs of melting paint.  Andrew tore every drawing down and added them to the growing fire, then the flimsy paper lanterns covered in glue and glitter on the window-sills, the piles of workbooks on the teacher’s desk.  He smashed chairs and fed the wood splinters into the greedy blaze.  Smoke roiled around him, stinging his eyes, so he slipped through the open window and retreated into the dark. He stood, watching, until the inferno was victorious; an oriflamme flickering against the canvas of the sky, its glory filling his weeping, exultant eyes.

The headmaster, a year later, indicated the white sentinels that studded the ceiling tiles.

“Of course, the new building has fire alarms and sprinklers in every classroom. CCTV, security doors, controlled entry,” he told the reporters.  “Much better. In fact, a vast improvement, as you can see.”

He pointed at the digital whiteboards, the computers lining the walls, the sterile desks, then waved through the windows at the spiked-topped fences surrounding the playing field.  The reporters nodded obediently and scribbled notes into their spiral-bound pads.

“The Phoenix Primary School,” he continued. “An apt name. Renewal from the ashes.  Clean, modern, far more secure. A fresh start.”

In his cell, Andrew stared at the ceiling and thought about colours:  scarlet, charcoal and living, blazing orange.  The governor had agreed he could do art classes. He grinned. He could do art. Easy. Yeah, it would be easy. Big sheets of pastel-coloured cartridge paper, pads of A4 lined paper, thick rough-textured sketchbooks, whatever. He fingered the stolen lighter hidden in his pocket, scratching his nail along its serrated wheel.  Remembering his masterpiece, he clenched his fists. He’d show them that he was good, really good, at art.

The End

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For those who’ve had enough of Lord of the Rings…

I hope you enjoy this short story.

Herina Leaves Home

Herina pushed the embroidered drapes aside and strode into her and her mother’s rooms in the Elven hall of Dellriven.  She pushed her hair back from her sweaty forehead, and dropped the heavy game bag onto the floor. Blood from the rabbits and brace of pheasant seeped into a sticky pool on the polished cream marble.

The Elven lord, Felrund, was standing by the arched window that looked over the waterfall. Her mother stood close to him. Felrund turned, saw her, and tutted.

“By the stars, Illyeda, your daughter looks more like that rogue, her father, every day,” he said, brushing a fleck of dust from his moss-green velvet robe. “A pity… such a graceless, clumsy, gawky girl. You must be mortified every time she lurches into the hall.”

Illyeda pushed her silvery hair behind her pointed ears, smoothed her white samite skirts, and stared with aloof, grey eyes at Herina. Come on, say something, Herina thought. Well, if you won’t, I will.

“I suppose you think I should be a pale beanpole like your son, always strumming that gdzarhsik lute and wailing about the moon!” she hissed.

“What did you say?” Felrund said.  “That sounded like Dwarfish.”

Herina shrugged. “So I know a few Dwarfish swearwords?  At least they have more guts than you lot.”

Felrund stared at her, turned to Illeyda, kissed her hand theatrically, then swept from the room, sneering  loftily down at Herina as he passed.

Illeyda stepped towards her daughter. “Herina,” she said. “Must you bring your dead animals here?  Must you wear such clothes?” She gestured towards Herina’s mud-splattered leg bindings and tattered jerkin. “Must you spend so much time in the woods, and villages, and hills with those – those savages?”

“You’d rather I stayed here, prancing about the terraces and pavilions in ten-foot long silk skirts and with my hair dolled up in bright red plaits?  Leaning gracefully over the balconies, sucking up to Felrund’s wussy son, pretending to be dignified, pretending I can stand the endless lute music and singing to the stars like they matter? Krizikdesh, give me strength!”

“Yes!  You should accept your heritage and your destiny as an elf, Herina!”

“Half- elf, half- human, remember. Anyway, sod that.  All that poncing nobly around, all that chanting and woo-woo magic. No, I can’t stand another evening drifting around the hall trying to fake some interest in Felrund and his oh-look-at-us-we’re-so-beautiful cronies and the eternal boring songs about ancient history.”

She strode into her room and threw open the cupboards.  As she pulled out clothes, knives, a cloak, her bodhran drum, and shoved them into a pack, Illyeda stood and watched.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“What does it look like? I’m leaving. I think I’ll head off to see if I can find my father. You should approve, mother. Aren’t elves keen on quests?”

Illyeda shrugged. “Quests?  I think finding your father will be more than a quest. I suppose I should try to persuade you to stay, but truly, you are not suited here. You do not fit. I will send you away with my blessings and wishes for your protection.”

“What, no ancient Elvish amulet or powerful charm? Not even a farewell chant? Mother, I’m surprised at you.”

“No. But I will give you this.” She undid her necklace and gave it to Herina. It was a simple gold chain, with no pendant.

“What use will that be?  Come on, I was expected a magic ring at least. Or something, I don’t know, something father gave you.”

“You were the only thing that your father gave me,” Illyeda said with dignity, wiping a tear from her eye.

“Well, I bet I was a big disappointment to you. Right, I’m off.” Herina hoisted the pack onto her back, picked up her bows, quivers and arrows, and threw the cloak around her shoulders. “You can keep the rabbits and I’m sure Felrund will be only too happy to comfort you after I’ve gone. Any last words, any wise advice, any hints as to where my father might be?”

“Try the Torrendor homelands. He will probably, knowing him, be raiding settlements with other bandits, now that the empire is weakening.”

“Sounds fun. Maybe I’ll join him. Bye.”

“Farewell, my daughter, and may the bright stars shine on you, may the moon light your path, may the rains…”

Herina didn’t bother to stay to hear the rest.

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For all you women who feel like Martha

This is for all you women who feel like you are a Martha and not a Mary, and who have heard that it is a sin to worry and be distracted, and who get annoyed with being unfavourably compared to Mary.

This is Luke’s account including the bits that he missed out because he didn’t have enough space:-

Martha was working hard getting the supper ready. She came to Jesus and said, “Do You see that my sister is not helping me? Tell her to help me.”

Jesus said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. Only a few things are important, even just one. Mary has cherry-picked the good thing. I would like her to notice how hard you have to work and help you, so that you can have the good things too. But I won’t make her. It will not be taken away from her. I’d rather she did it in her own free will.”

Interestingly, later on it seems that the relationship between the sisters is better. And when Lazarus, their brother dies, Martha is the one who shows great faith. She is declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. So we can be sure that she has had time to sit and listen to Jesus, and to get the ‘good things’ as well as Mary. And I infer that Mary has started to help out a bit more around the house!

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The Gifts – Book Review

A review of The Gifts

Live Life Loved

It’s a really scary thing to write a book, especially a fictional book. It’s like opening a door in your mind and letting everyone see inside! So I am full of admiration for my friend Cathy Hemsley who has published this story, which you can buy here

It’s a fantasy type story in that it takes place in a world other than our own and that it has characters with magical aspects but as a fantasy story I found it still very rooted in the themes and concerns of our own world and the characters were utterly believable.

I say this because fantasy is not a genre I would normally pick up. But even though the dominant race in the story are people who are literally very brightly coloured and gifted in highly unusual ways, the whole concept didn’t seem too alien.

I think this is because it was a…

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The Gifts

Gifts that are wasted, plans that fail, a world on the brink of war………

The Gifts is now published! With a beautiful, perfect cover designed by Beck Hemsley. Worth buying for the cover alone. Thanks to all those who helped along the way: there are too many of you to mention, but especial thanks go to Edwina Mohtady, all the writers in Rugby, Beck Hemsley and Izzy Jarvis.

I am so happy – and slightly scared…

Available on Amazon as a paperback for £8.99 of the Kindle version for £1.99

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Crumbs! The Passive Voice

Do you know what the ‘passive voice’ is? It is to be avoided! I have discovered that I have a tendency to use it too much, thanks to my excellent proof-reader, and I am learning how to fix it.

For example, consider these:-

  1. He was walking towards her.
  2. He walked towards her.
  3. He strode towards her.

Example 1 is the passive voice:  ‘was walking’. It tends to give the impression of something that has been happening for a while and is still happening – and is therefore rather dull. Changing it to the non-passive in example 2 gives the impression that something has started to happen! But it is even better to use a stronger verb:  ‘strode’, not walked.

Another example:-

  1. Her hands were numb from the cold and wet.
  2. Her hands felt numb from the cold and wet.

Example 1 is passive, 2 is slightly better.

Consider these:-

  1. Her bossiness irritated Sam.
  2. Sam was irritated by her bossiness.
  3. Sam felt irritated by her bossiness.
  4. Sam gritted his teeth as her bossy, irritating voice went on and on.

Example 1 is passive, and also reverses the subject and the object, so example 2 is better because we care more about how this is affecting Sam, so it’s better if he is the subject. Example 3 is less passive, we have some emotion in the sentence. But we can do better:  example 4  – ‘show, don’t tell’!

How about these?

  1. His face was covered in biscuit crumbs.
  2. Biscuit crumbs covered his face.
  3. A generous sprinkling of crumbs from a shortbread biscuit obscured his pudgy features.

Example 1 is passive, example 2 seems less passive:  in our writer’s group last week we weren’t sure which was better. But example 3 is much more ‘sensuous’ – in that we get a better feel for the crumbs and what they are doing.

And finally, the first sentence of ‘The Gifts’ has been improved from:-

  1. Rain was falling.                              Written when I had no idea about how to write
  2. Rain fell.                                          Written when I had better ideas about how to write
  3. Rain drenched the city.                And I’m still improving

There are probably places where only the passive voice will do, but I can’t at the moment think of any. Interestingly, I have started to notice it in published books e.g. J. K. Rowling uses it a fair bit in the Harry Potter books!

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Drawbacks to Publication

After ten years, I am about to self-publish my first novel, The Gifts, on Amazon, via their Kindle Direct Publishing.  And I am procrastinating. Why? I’ve realized there are huge mental obstacles for me.

Rejection

Sending to others something that I have put so much effort, emotional energy and thought into, is to put myself in danger of rejection. The failures that I have had (so many competitions!) leave scars. Even the small successes don’t overcome the pain.

Suppose I give/sell copies to my book group and they discuss it and don’t like it much, or tear it to pieces? As we have done to so many books! I’d rather they were honest, but after so much work and learning, this book is the best that I can do, and it’s not going to be re-written again.

I haven’t even tried to send The Gifts to agents/publishers, as it doesn’t fit quite into any neat categories (not quite fantasy, more like allegory/fantasy/romance/adventure) and it’s definitely not the next ‘Game of Thrones’.

Failure

It could just fail. Just be completely ignored.

Loss of ownership

This is, strangely, the main reason. Once the book is published, I can now longer work on it, and I have enjoyed writing it so much! It is out of my hands. It’s like sending my eldest child off to another country. All the joy that I have had in it will become mainly a memory.

Bad reviews

Obviously…

No reviews at all

Worse than bad reviews…

Having to self-publicise

Because I’m self-publishing, I will have to self-publicise as well. That’s going to be so hard. I haven’t even had the courage to ask my best friends if they liked my book of short stories, (or have even read it) so how can I go to friends/acquaintances/work colleagues and ask them to buy my book?

 

Hmmm…….

But I have to do this, otherwise what was the point of it all? And I know that Phil, Beck, my family, my friends will be supportive. It won’t make any money, but maybe someone will enjoy it. I truly hope so. I hope and pray that one of my friends will honestly say to me ‘I really enjoyed it, especially the scene where …’ or ‘your characters are so interesting, and … is such a strong person’ or ‘it was fascinating how it resonated with a lot of things that are happening in the world now’.

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