The second in a series, but the beginning of something bigger

The second in a series, but the beginning of something bigger

23425295Alexandra Fry Private Eye Tutankhamun’s Gift by Angella Graff

This is the sequel to Angella Graff’s wonderful adventure-thriller, Alexandra Fry: the Curse of the Lion’s Heart, a story that introduced us to our teenage heroine who can see ghosts, battles villains in Indiana Jones-style, and solves crimes like a private eye.

There’s a twist, as all good books in this genre have, but whereas the first book was what I would call a ‘little book’ – one that is self-contained, and a rollercoaster of adventure that invites you to read it all in one day – this is longer and more leisurely both in actual, physical length and in story with a quest that is by our lead character’s own admission important but not urgent.

The relationship that built in the first book between Alexandra and her new friends Penelope and Jack are developed and tested as she she herself matures.

Where this book possibly lacks something is rather than being a self-contained story, this story is going somewhere. It’s no bad thing though: the first two Harry Potter books were pretty much self-contained stories, but then wham, from book three we end up on a longer, more deadly story arc. I suspect that something similar might be going to happen to Alexandra Fry, Private Eye.

And I, for one, am going going to enjoy finding out what that story might be…

26 books (and more) to read

26 books (and more) to read

7309_TSM_26CPoster_PS_v00426 Characters: celebrating childhood story heroes by Cambridge Jones (Photographer)
Alice Rochester (Editor), Andy Stanton (Forword)

The only problem with this book – the accompanying guide to the inspiring exhibition at Oxford’s Story Museum of the same name – is that you can’t read this book and not add more books to your To Read pile. And not just books to your to read pile, but a host more to your To Re-Read pile.

For each of the 26 Children’s authors who have contributed to this book and exhibition there is, a short introduction as to who they are, and a longer interview with the photographer, Cambridge Jones, as to why they chose character that they have, a short piece about the character and its author, and an extract from the story which best features the character.One of the questions that I found myself watching out for with each was how they became storytellers, and so many of them ring true with my own ideas and thoughts, and childhood that have made myself a writer.

Already, I have added a Frances Hardinge book to my TBR list (next on the list), and Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers will be following that soon after. And I still want to re-read The Wind of the Willows – that has to be the re-read book of the year.

If you love stories, and storytellers, this book, like the exhition is for you.

The New Inklings

The New Inklings

Last Saturday we visited the brilliant 26 Characters exhibition at Oxford’s Story Museum. This morning I was reading some of the accompanying book, and by chance I got to the bit where children’s author Frances Hardinge talks about why she chose The Scarlet Pimpernel as her favourite. In reading this I discovered that she was childhood friends of Rhiannon Lassiter.

Now I am friends/colleagues/fellow-author to Rhiannon, who also knows Michelle Harrison of 13 Treasures  fame and who worked at OUP at the same time as myself, and they both know Luisa Plaja, who I first met when we were both critiquing each other’s work on the WriteWords website.

Frances Hardinge’s books sounded interesting so, whilst in Bicester buying the meat and veg, I made use of our local independent bookseller, and picked up a copy of Frances’ Cuckoo Song, which sounds good albeit possibly scary as hell (I’m a wuss!).

63954_10152750891960630_8282827009920638743_nI love how, in some small way (and I do still feel a bit like I’m not a proper author because of my Indie status – I know, rediculous…), I am possibly part of, or on the cusp of some small group of writers that no each other.

It does just go to show what a small world this writing/author world is!

Oxwater: the Oxford you know so well like you’ve never seen it before

Oxwater: the Oxford you know so well like you've never seen it before

You probably can’t guess how how much fun I’m having with my new story. Peter is turning out to be something of an anti-hero, I think, as I wait for Lucy to make an appearance again. Already there are a some slight, knowing (and therefore unrelated but just nice) references to Mr Tumnal – all my novels are linked in some way however obscurely even across different worlds.

And In Your Own Words is set in a very different world, where I can describe Oxford just as I know and love it but where it exists on the water like in Venice. It’s fun imagining the great St Giles Lake at the centre of the city, and coming up with names for streets that are now canals…

Oxford-on-water

3449 / 80000 words. 4% done!

The Constant Read

The Constant Read

large_e210ba4cc87b32c70b39d6c5b4dc1d9bThe Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

Whilst I enjoy historical fiction, I always approach the genre with a certain amount of trepidation, because of a fear that the characters and the settings are going to confuse me. I therefore was pleased that when I started to read this book I had an opportunity of a couple of long car journeys to get stuck into it. In the end though, I had nothing to fear.

This book is from the very start, immediate and attention grabbing. It doesn’t feel ‘wrong’, as so many historical novels can do, of being written with a 21st-century language, but it also doesn’t fall into the trap of distancing the reader through slavishly observing the language and tone of the period. This is just a well told, if fictional, account of the life of Henry VII’s first wife.

I say fictional, but that is only because in her afterword, Philippa Gregory stresses the fictional parts of the story. This is a well-researched and exceptionally-told history of that part of British history. Certainly, I have always been a bit confused over events and timelines, and reading this has made me understand more, just from this one book. I’ll certainly be reading on further into the series, as well as reading the Cousin’s War series too!

Climbing through the wardrobe

Climbing through the wardrobe

Today I have had the best afternoon out in Oxford, ever! Emma and I headed into the city this afternoon to go to the excellent and inspiring home of The Story Museum – I think that maybe this place, the old telephone exchange – is my cathedral. We went to see the amazing 26 Characters exhibition before it closes on 2 November (if you haven’t been to see it, go soon, you won’t regret it!).

From the moment you enter the courtyard that sits at the heart of the three loosely interconnected buildings that make up the Story Museum, you can feel the sense of fun at work here, from the curiouser and curiouser messages up the doors to the cafe and shop with the furniture on the walls and the ceilings and the tables for drawing on.

For the 26 Characters exhibition, the photographer Cambridge Jones found 26 authors to each name their favourite storybook character to have inspired them. He then photographed dressed as those characters, and the exhibiton is a series of installations based on this. You work your way round the crumbling old building exploring the different rooms to feel, touch, and smell the world of the story book characters, and in many there are readings from the stories.

On one floor you go from standing on the pirate ship listening to an excerpt from Treasure Island (Philip Pullman’s favourite), to entering the dark forest of Mirkwood for a passage from the Lord of the Rings. In the corner of this room, inconspicuous is an old wardrobe…

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Now who hasn’t, ever since reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, wanted to investigate inside of an innocent wardrobe. And this one actually did lead to a secret wood, with a lamp post and snow, a carriage, and… the white witch!

In another room there was a story making wheel where you were given three ingrediants of a story – and then a whole wall behind you of stories written by children and pinned to it.

But another favourite was when we entered the room that once once the old General Post Office kitchens. As soon as you entered you could hear the tiny, tiny voices of… The Borrowers! They were living behind the grill at the bottom of the stainless steel units and you could actually see Pod’s and Arietty’s home! Into another room and you didn’t see anything unless you followed out the instructions to walk into the room and clap twice if you believed in fairies. And then you were in the world of Peter Pan and Wendy and Tinkerbell.

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

So tonight sees me finding the first of a regular series of evenings which I can devote squarely to my writing. Thursdays have been, for the last 14 years(!!) band night, and since I’ve been with Emma Thursday’s have thus been Emma-time. Tonight Emma went off into Oxford after an early dinner to go to a taster session of Rock Choir.

Having never been to a choir before, it seems to have been a success for her, and so it seems that I will be getting an equivalent evening of Thomas-time to devote to writing my next novel, In Your Own Words (working title). My first novel, all in all, took about 9 years to be finished, and Mr Tumnal, five… I’m determined that my third novel will be nowhere near that. Tonight, I’m heading on the way with another 700 words in the bag. :-)

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2669 / 80000 words. 3% done!

Back On The Words

Back On The Words

There is something quite special about being back in the writing zone. I’ve missed it. On the 27 July 2013 I finished my last novel, and since then I’ve been keeping my creativity going with editing Mr Tumnal, along with tinkering with ideas for a follow-up Norse mythology novel to The End Of All Worlds, and writing a couple of short stories. However I have missed the urgency to write that you get when there is a novel is burning inside of you.

This week I’ve finally found my novel voice again, working out how to tell the story that I first came up with about eight years ago when I went to the pub after work with Ros and her friends about a guy who has his novel stolen along with his laptop only to read it in the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts submitted to him year’s later.

Oh, and Puck features in this novel too! Not sure if he’s working for Oberon or Titania this time, or neither this time!

1934 / 80000 words. 2% done!

A book lovers book: review of How Novels Work by John Mullen

A book lovers book: review of How Novels Work by John Mullen

Mullan_pb_proof.qxd How Novels Work by John Mullan

Whether you are already and an author, aspire to write books, or just enjoy reading them I would recommend this book to everyone. I would defy you to read this and not think about novels in another way.

The market is saturated with how to write books, but most are not actually very use. The best, are the one’s which are inspirational, rather than how to. When I first went to college to study writing I took with me John Fairfax’s and John Moat’s The Way To Write (a brilliantly original book that spawned a series of not-so good books).

This is not a how to write book, but it will teach you everything about how novels work. This is a book-lovers book. You will read each of the sections and both realise things that you had noticed but not ever really considered, and come away with it with a list a mile long of more books that you really should read to add to your TBR pile.

The Other Social Networks

The Other Social Networks

I’m a high-user of social networking. I admit it. I have been for over a decade now, having started my Livejournal early in 2003 partly as a response to being bullied at work. Since then, I have met friends, networked with contacts, rekindled lost friendships, and met a girl who is now my wife through various forms of social networking.

When most people think of social networking they probably think of Facebook and Twitter. But there are countless of others: Tumblr, Flickr, Instagram, amongst hundreds of others you have probably never heard of. I rember being shown a slide with them all on a while back.

In the last week I’ve investigated Ello, not that there is an awful lot to discover about Ello, and *technically* I have a Google+ account not that I ever use it. For ages I have had a Pinterest account (does anyone else call it Pin Interest? No, just me then…) but I have not really ever got a handle on what it is or how I use it so I have just kind of left it there, tucked away in a corner of the internet and nevere thought much of it – apart from why? when I got the the occasional follow request from someone. I mean really, why follow me on something I don’t use and have nothing (interesting or not) to say on!

This week though I have finally decided how I can use Pinterest successfully. As discussed yesterday I am in the middle of briefing designers for a cover for my forthcoming novel, Mr Tumnal, and I am finding that a Pinterest board is just what is required for gathering together ideas and examples to show someone.

Follow Thomas’s board Mr Tumnal on Pinterest.

Inspiration escaping me

Inspiration escaping me

This evening I find myself tired. In my day job, it has been Open Day, and the October one is one of our biggest and most important for next year’s recruitment. I always feel a bit of a fraud for being tired after these because other’s should be far more tired than me, but it is still quite an intense time helping potential students get the most from their visit. I guess that’s why. The weather this morning, was to be honest, dismal. It was very, very wet, but we were still busy so that was good, and this afternoon it cleared up and this evening has been the most beautiful of autumn ones. I’m sure that overnight all the trees have suddenly started properly turning! The changing of seasons is always something that inspires me…

I’m also being inspired to write again. It now being four months since I subbed Mr Tumnal to a couple of publishers I’m now planning on finishing it up for a pre-Christmas Indie release. I’ve realised for this that I need to have a cover professionally made for it, and have contacted a few designers. I’ve already had some brilliant early sketches from Silviu Sadoschi, who has previously designed the cover for my friend, John Scotcher’s The Boy in Winter’s Grasp. I’ve also made contact with Alexandra Allden, the sister of a colleague of a colleague of mine. Talking to both Silviu and Alexandra have shown me that a professional cover design was not the prohibitive expense that I thought it was going to be, and have enthused me with the idea that I really can do my story justice, and I am excited by the prospect of working with either.

I’m also finding the need to get stuck into my next story leaching out of me. I’ve written short stories in the last year, but I’m finding my fingers aching to write the next novel. And here’s the thing? Which of my many ideas is going to my next? My natural home is one of magical realism, but the one I’m not sure if the next I feel closest to is magical? There’s a twist, and its a really good twist, but I’m not sure if magic lies therein. I guess that’s not so much of a problem.

I just need to get my pen out and place the first mark down and write.

A brilliant satire of both fairytales and Hollywood

A brilliant satire of both fairytales and Hollywood

800388The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Ever since I first saw The Princess Bride film I have loved it – loved it as much as a dear old friend. How come then that I have only just discovered that there is a book of the film (or should that be a film of the book?) to read. The is a modern fairytale. More than a fairytale, it is a pastiche of what fairytales are. The book goes beyond that for it is a satire not just of fairytales, but of how old stories are, are written, and of Hollywood that mines them for its films.

In the film, a grandfather reads the book to his grandson, skipping out the boring bits to the tale of high adventure that he thinks the boy will enjoy. In the book, we see this as an autobiography of either (and both) Goldman being read the book by his father and he reading the book to is son.

For a while you do actually believe that Morgenstern’s Princess Bride is a real book, and you think about trying to track it down in some secondhand bookshop somewhere. It’s a clever idea that makes you believe its an actual abridgement in which Goldman presents the ‘good parts’ version of an older story through tales of how he adapted it.

Where the book follows either the fairytale or the grandfather/grandson scenes of the film the book every bit as good, and the introduction is very entertaining. As the book progresses, I do feel that Golding gets a bit carried away with his notes on the text, none more obviously than in the concluding section that follows the main story where he satarises the Hollywood obsession with sequels. The ‘Buttercup’s Baby section doesn’t really seem to add anything much to an otherwise brilliant book.

I am creative. I am an author.

I am creative. I am an author.

I am creative. I am an author.

I got these wise words from Joanna Penn and her latest blog post about Lessons Learned From 3 Years As An Author-Entrepreneur. It’s weird to say this considering how much I love books, always find time to read, and itch to write but I think I might need to write this on a Post-It note and stick it over my desk.

Ever since May 2012, I have finally been able to say that I have earnt money from my writing – a three figure salary no less – but when it comes to paying the bills, its my job developing websites for the university. There’s something in my brain, I think, that when I am at a party and asked what I do, I still say I’m a Web Designer, or if I’m being completely accurate, a ‘Web and Digital Media Officer’.

Why do I never say that I’m a writer?

I guess it might be the follow-on question that always comes; that is variations on the theme of that question of what you have written? Have I read anything that you’ve written? And I still find that hard, admitting that my book is self-published, that sales only trickle in…

But I am a creative. I am a writer. Not a day, hour or minute goes by without me thinking, dreaming, breathing the life of a writer. I am compelled to write by a need to tell stories. I carry my notebook and a pen with me everywhere and find the oddest scraps of time to write. If I’m not reading, I’m writing. More often than not I’m writing. Maybe its because there is part of me that hankers after the need for validation of someone independent from my circle of friends of family saying yes they want to publish me? And yet, I can write. People who I don’t know have bought, and read, and liked my book. Isn’t that as validated as I need to be?

So next time someone asks me what I do, I must say first and foremost: I am a creative. I am an author. And if it comes out later that I also get paid to design websites, well, that’s what I do when I’m not writing stories…

The inspiration of travelling and history

The inspiration of travelling and history

14975Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

It is clear that this story was inspired by the fortified medieval Cité of Carcassonne, and its a creative inspiration that I am all too familiar with. I was first told about this book shortly after its publication whilst I was writing my own foreign-travel-inspired-novel. I too had, independently, a character called Alice and a story that blended the real with the fantastical. It’s a BIG book though, and for whatever reason, even though I enjoyed the story I only got about halfway through before the draw of another book took me away from it.

I think it was the historical sections involving the medieval Alaïs that I had difficulty with and put me off from finishing the book. Eight year’s on, and I’m pleased that I returned to the book to read it again, from beginning (again), through to the end. It’s the kind of book that makes the Kindle worth it – I can read a BIG book without it taking up alot of space.

Second time on, and I was as gripped by the 21st century opener involving Alice and the archeological dig as I was the first time, and I did struggle a bit still with the Alaïs story too (or at least the cast of medieval characters when Alaïs wasn’t involved) but it hung together for me, and kept me moving on. I would preferred a bit more of handovers from Alice to Alaïs’ story to keep the link, and I was a little confused by the sudden appearance and importance of Will to the story? Why does Alice so completely and immediately trust him after all that has happened to her?

Having read the second book in the series, Sepulchre, first, I would say Labyrinth is the better, more complete, tale, and I’m glad I finally got round to finishing it. It’s also inspired me to continue to be creatively inspired by history and foreign places, and finding those stories to weave into a modern narrative. I really do like time-shift adventures.

Lucy and Luke’s wedding

Lucy and Luke's wedding

Emma and I have just got back from a very nice day at Cogges Manor Farm, celebrating the wedding of two very good friends, Lucy and Luke. From the detailed, hand-illustrated, invitations we always knew that the day was going to somewhat different. Probably the best way of describing it is to record here a copy of the poem that I was inspired to write for their memory box. I know that neither would mind me including it here…

Congratulations Lucy, and Luke!

Lucy and Luke: a farm wedding

Rat-a-tat-tat
and the farm gate opens
Lucy arrives, on her Dad’s arm
to walk the lines of family and friends
to greet her Luke.
The wedding begins.

Prosecco and canapes on the lawn.
The bride and groom mingle
with friends and family
Pigmy goates, Indian runner ducks,
and Shetland ponies.
It’s important to watch your step
if you wander too far
across cobbles, and grass, and yard.

At the barn,
issued with kazoos, and instructions
and find our seats on straw bales.
We are taught our parts
and Lucy processes in
the wedding march
on kazoo.
It was going to be a wedding
so different, so unique
so Lucy; so Luke.
The readings, read
you wrote.
So different, so funny
so Luke; so Lucy.
The rings were delivered, or not
from the wings of a barn owl.
Wind In The Willows,
I want to re-read it now.
Harp and voice,
beautiful accompaniment
to a beautiful, talented couple.

What next?
You walk out, man and wife
to a kazoo orchestra—
the Great Escape.

Photographs on the lawn,
with friends, and family,
owls and goats.
Lucy and Luke
you do things different.
Special.

A special day,
a special couple.

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An urban thriller with a high body count

An urban thriller with a high body count

After the plodding start to the first book in the Officer Gunnhilder series of novels, the series settles down with the second story. Gunna has a new job in the serious crime unit and it is a bloody, complex tale with a body count high enough to make other fictional dectives quite jealous.

Quentin Bates has found his voice and captures the character of the Icelandic people in the aftermath of the recent financial crash. What the book lacks though is the landscape of Iceland.

This is a city story and takes place in the urban environment. The opening chapter of the first book showed us that he can make us feel the cold of the natural landscape, and I hope that in a future book we might get to see, and feel, that side of this northern thriller.

And as to the title of the book? Yes, you are kept guessing to the very last page to find out the significance. It’s worth the wait though.

It seems that it is possible to love fairytales too much

It seems that it is possible to love fairytales too much

16128504The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

Everyone loves fairytales don’t they? It seems from this debut novel that it is possible to love then too much.

I wanted to like this book so much, but in the end I found it lacking in so many ways. Some of the other reviews of this book complain that there are just too many stories and characters crammed into a story, but that isn’t my complaint. Fairy tales are meant to be retold, and told again, and told anew once more. There are so many tales out there, many of which are variations of each other. Having the character of the woodcutter running through all of them is a really good idea – hell I’d also, independently, had that idea – after all he features in so many of the stories and it is a link to this thick, dark, German forests that it just makes so much sense.

However, the woodcutter is the only major character you really get to know, and even then you don’t really get to care for him or what it is he does. The short chapters that are, at times, sentence length, are also to short and it only adds tho the confusion. I know what the as author is trying to achieve with the short scenes because I myself have experimented with a more filmic style but I have learnt that it just doesn’t work. In this, for one, more can be less.

I found the whole story plodding and uninteresting, which is a shame because there is an idea in there that I really wanted to read. I just couldn’t find it.

Nothing’s changed; everything’s changed

Nothing's changed; everything's changed

This evening, instead of making for my mad dash to a sweat-inducing bus, I met up with a couple of old schoolfriends – Ricki and Natasha – who I haven’t seen in just about 20 years (Rachel and Joe’s wedding on the 2nd(?) September to be precise). I say schoolfriends but that term has always been an awkward one for me. I had a group of people, usually different one’s at times, whom I was friendly with whilst at school, but save from Patrick (the closest thing to a best friend up until they rejigged our classes aged 11, and then Rachel from Sixth Form and ever since, I’ve never really had any one single, or group of, constants in my peer groups. I guess I always thought I was lonely and a ‘Billy No-Mates’.

Apparently that’s not how Natasha remembers me, I found out today. Quiet and shy maybe, but not a Billy no-mates…

I try not to live my life by regrets and if onlys, but I do wish that I knew now what I know about myself back then. Back then, I would never have ended up meeting a couple of people from school who I hadn’t seen for 20 years (and yes, I was really scared today – I don’t know why but I was…). Then again, I wouldn’t be who I am today, with the very good life that I have today if I had been different back then.

At least I can give thanks to the internet. Not only has it given me a job now (just what would the the job title Web and Digital Media Officer have meant back then when there was neither the web nor digital media…?!), but it has given me my life, my wife, and access to the friendships I wasn’t confident enough to realise I had back then.

Inspire A Generation… of writers?

Inspire A Generation... of writers?

Two years ago it seemed like just about the entire country was in the thrall of the London 2012 Olympics; we were all still talking about that Opening Ceremony; and the music that featured in it was still ringing in our ears. The mantra surrounding the days was Inspire a generation and of ‘legacy’. It’s not for me to judge whether those aims were fulfilled. I was inspired but I can’t say that I’ve actually done anything to live up to that inspiration. Not, at least, in a sporting sense.

A year on, and this time last year, that playlist was back in my head, being replayed on almost constant repeat on my iPod. Once again, it was the soundtrack to my life, and it was inspiring me. I remember one weekend afternoon/evening when Emma got called out work, I was working on Mr Tumnal in the garden under the shade of the umbrella and listening to my 2012 playlist on headphones and I was in the zone… and I didn’t realise that all around me there was the most torrential rain and a thunderstorm raging!

That was exactly a year ago today; the day that I put my last pen mark to Mr Tumnal’s story. Another year on, and I have a yearning to listen to that music again. In the intervening year, I have read, re-read, had-read, redrafted, edited, and had-edited my novel, and submitted it to publisher’s. No wonder then, that I am now getting itchy fingers to start writing again.

I’m not entirely sure that writing was quite the thing that Locog had in mind when they coined the Inspire a generation slogan, but hey, if it works! I wonder if every July will demand this music to be played?

Writing again

I’m between books. I’m not completely done with Mr Tumnal, but I’ve not started something new. I think I want to write my In Your Own Words story I have brewing (which is every bit as weird and wonky as Mr Tumnal, but at the same the follow up story to The End Of All Worlds is still nagging at my heart strings.

Just like in the original, when I needed some friends for Eleanor, Alice and Kirsten wandered into the story straight out of one of my earlier (unconnected) stories, so Alice has continued to talk to me through here diaries. She’s given me one such entry which could well act as a prologue for some more Loki/Freyja action.

Possibly don’t read on if you are wary of spoilers…

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