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…

Continue reading

Nordic Noir or Plodding Mystery?

Nordic Noir or Plodding Mystery?

13242182Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

For the first time in possibly a decade I’m reading more than I have in ages; disiplining myself to set aside time to read just as I have set aside writing time, and its working. So I’m trying to read a little bit more widely and out of my comfort zone. I’ve recently read Quentin Bates’ Frozen Assets, and as I’ve loved the BBC/Kenneth Brannah adaptation of Wallander, I thought I’d try one of Henning Mankell’s Nordic Noir…

What I found was an awkwardly plodding book which saw Wallander plodding through the routines of his investigations. After initially hooking me with the main, bloody, murder the story turns to another story that I expect to end up linked, but which, in the end is resolved with an ‘oh, okay then…’ fashion.

Whilst I will watch the adapations again, I’m not sure I like the Wallander of the books enough to continue.

The Occasional Poet

The Occasional Poet

Whenever I start a new notebook to jot down my writing notes there comes first a period where I have to transcribe bits and pieces across from the old to the new. I have quite a collection of truly interesting story ideas building up now, but I also found some poems I needed to copy to my small book of poems.

One of these poems was one that I began on hearing of my great auntie Kathleen’s death earlier this year At the time I left it because I didn’t know how to complete it, but actually, re-reading it now I find it to be a fitting tribute.

Auntie Kathleen

You saved our Cristmas cake
When we let it cookfor double
the time it should have

I had a question about ham
and you sent me your little book
to help me.

You came all the way
to the foot of Snowdon
When I got married.

You blew bubbles like a pro
You were kind and caring,
with I think, a slightly wicked
Sense of humour.

You gave me five songs for my
wedding, to remember you by
Five songs, and the reasons behind them.
Thank you for the whole host of memories

New runes will come to Odin’s heirs

New runes will come to Odin's heirs

18665033The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

I loved what Joanne Harris has done with the character of the Norse God Loki in her earlier books, Runemarks, and Runelight, and so the prospect of the story of the Norse world from creation to Ragnarok from Loki’s perspective was just too big a draw for anyone. I had to read this book.

What you get is absolutely a standalone tale from the Runemarks books. It is a different Loki too, but older or younger? You can’t tell, and this uncertainness is one of the things that makes The Gospel of Loki so alluring.

In this book, Loki, the trickster god is out to set the record straight; to tell the story of the Norse legends from his perspective for a change instead of the usual (rubbish, he would say) that Odin tells of. I wonder whether his voice in this book is him confessing the story to Maddy (from the Runemarks books)? Those books are set years after Ragnarok as the nine worlds have been, as prophetised, rebuilt again, and this is the prequel to those.

As to the age of Loki. I want to see him as a youngster, but he clearly isn’t that, but he isn’t an old man either. This is the great thing about the Norse Gods – just as they can change Aspect and use their Glam, so they can be of all ages and none. And for this there is all the more to love them for it.

A story that details brilliantly how hour society is only beginning to understand the hidden conditions

A story that details brilliantly how hour society is only beginning to understand the hidden conditions

18481678Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

This is a quite remarkable story from a debut novelist to watch in the future. Emma Healey’s story is told by Maude – an old lady living with the onset of dementia – as such does not always (brilliantly) make sense.

She spends the course of the novel searching for ‘Elizabeth’, her friend, but finds it hard to make herself understood. Indeed it is in the scenes when she is trying to make herself understood that I find are the best. The smaller scenes, the scenes where she encounters people on the street, in shops, or at the police station, are incredibly powerful. They are about a woman with a dementia, but they could so easily refer to, and reflect, how society does not understand people with any of the hidden conditions.

There are poignant and touching moments, but there are also really quite funny episodes, like when Maude is placing a small ad in the local newspaper for her friend, and the woman in the office thinks it is a lost cat.

The fact that this story comes from the pen of an author who’s still so young, makes it even more impressive, and her next novel, which I hope she is already writing, even more anticipated.

A habit of noticing the strangest of things

A habit of noticing the strangest of things

This morning, on my journey into work I saw something – or someone – that I was least expecting to see. From the upstairs window of the bus, I could see a pirate cycling up Headington Hill.

Now, some might think that I was seeing things again. There was the infamous ‘badger on a bicycle’ incident from years ago (rumoured to actually be one of those lie-down tricycles that was coming off the A34 of all places at the North Abingdon slip-road). There was also the jousting knight on a moped that I saw on a country road in Oxfordshire, and most recently of course, earlier this year the medieval blacksmith on the bus. In fairness, although I don’t know whether he was a blacksmith, he was unshaven, wild-haired, and wearing a medieval-like tunic who had made some of his own attire (because I heard him tell this to the 21st century girl he was sat next to).

However, if you see a man – albeit wearing high-vis jacket and riding a bike – flying the Jolly Roger from his “vessel” then the man is clearly a pirate. It seems immaterial to me that his vessel might be the more unconventional bicycle.

Dreams of disconcertedness

Dreams of disconcertedness

I woke this morning, as usual with Radio 4 and Farming Today with every intention of getting up. In fact, I thought – I dreamed – that I did get up and unbelievably, showered, dressed,  fed the puss cats, had breakfast and was all ready to go out by the time that Tweet for the Day came on. Actually, I think I might have been the daily (fictitious?) repeat an hour later, just before 7. Let us ignore for the moment that had I actually have still been in the house at two minutes to seven, that I would have missed the bus. It was all a dream, and in the best traditions of dreams it doesn’t really make sense. It was also an anxious, panicky type of dream.

To understand exactly the nature of this morning’s anxious dreams we have to go back a few week’s to another dream that I don’t think I realised was a dream until now…

It was the weekend that my Mum and Dad came to stay to celebrate my birthday. I have this memory – a false memory as it turns out – that whilst on the way back from somewhere we stopped in Brill (maybe?) at a tumble-down little cottage on the hill, where an old lady was selling plants and crafts. Emma bought something – some crafts I think, and I remember her saying something about what her Dad told her never to do as she was getting money out her purse. Then later on she discovered her wedding ring was missing. The only thing that we could think was that she put her wedding ring in her purse whilst she tried on the ring that she was buying from the old lady (the crafty thing must have been jewellery?) and then paid for the gift jewellery with her wedding ring. I remember saying that we can just go back and see her, but Emma pointed out that the old lady had it now and wouldn’t give it back, and that can’t be what happened anyway, and that not to worry because it would turn up.

I really should have know that was a dream there and then then because that’s a very rational, considered – unbelievable response! But anyway I thought it was real even though nothing more was said about it.

So this morning I woke up really anxious and panicky about it, and thinking all the time that I must make sure to remember to ask/check with Emma if she had her ring still or if some old lady with a tumbledown cottage in Brill had taken it, before I left for work and really worrying in case I didn’t and then I would be worrying about it all day. Clearly, my anxiousness stayed with me after I ‘woke up’ properly. I even kept on going back trying to remember the details of what we did and where we went that weekend to try and remember where it was that it happened (was it Brill?) and why her Dad had warned her about something…

It really freaked me out.

 

The voice that inspires

The voice that inspires

8711783The Voice That Thunders by Alan Garner

I began to read this book of essays and lectures with some trepidation. Since before my teenage years I have loved Alan Garner’s books and have grown up with them at my side, but it has been a relationship that has become progressively difficult. His books, particularly Strandloper and Thursbitch, which can be near to incomprehensible. I was thus worried, that this book of essays would be a similarly difficult read.

I am so glad that I didn’t let these concerns stop me from reading The Voice That Thunders though. Yes, there are some intellectally challenging chapters that shows Garner’s detailed knowledge of his subject, but mostly it is a collection of talks that cannot fail you to write stories and enjoy words.

It’s a book that I can’t begin to count the number of times I quoted sections from it, let alone the number of times I didn’t because it wasn’t convenient at the time, and then I’d passed another half dozen of quotable passages. An inspiring read!

Of Dreams and Dylan Thomas: the power and mystery of words

Of Dreams and Dylan Thomas: the power and mystery of words

In contrast to yesterday, today has been altogether a more productive, enjoyable kind of day. It began with a bit of read in bed this morning, which included a spot of dream reading. Now, does anyone else ever dream read. Dream reading is when you are there reading, your book in front of you, working your way through the story/text just like you do albeit with varying levels of sense… and then you wake up. You realise, that you’ve dozed off and when you try and find your place you find the words on the page are completely different. It is a weird, confusing occurence though!! Does anyone else experience this? No? Just me, then. Me and my weird brain…

Nice, relaxing breakfast, and then I set to cleaning out the animals in the sunshine whilst listening to last week’s Desert Island Discs with Blue Peter editor Biddy Baxter. I made lemonade from the kit that the Shaw’s gave me for Christmas and I finally got round to writing my review of Time Was Soft There which Helen gave me for my birthday. I mention this last act particularly because I wrote the review on my laptop, which whilst still being a little slow to open things (it is 4½ years old though!) was accessing the old t’internet with some degree of speed expected of it. Maybe whatever it was I did succeed in doing yesterday worked?

I’ve earthed up the potatoes this afternoon too, and read lots more of my book during the heat of the day – well I sure as hell ain’t getting hot and sticky vacumning when its already hot and sticky! Then I made dinner of mashed fish (really this is a dish that is a lot tastier than the name might suggest – I seem to have quite a few recipes in my repetoire that seem to fall into this category) and then we settled down to watch the new production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood with an all-star, mostly Welsh cast. It was very interesting done, briliantly made in a way that completely highlighted the power of Dylan Thomas’ words…. but they cut it! It was only about an hour long which means they actually cut at least half an hour, maybe more. I would love to have seen this version but complete. Oh, why BBC, why did you deprive us so.

And now I’ve caught up with writing about my weekend in these pages. I used to write about my daily goings on so much more regularly than of late. I need to get back into the habit of it.

An unachieving kind of day

An unachieving kind of day

I thought that today might be a productive kind of day. Emma had to go to work this morning and then be on call for the rest of the weekend, so it was always going to be the quieter kind of around-the-house kind of time. To this end, I got up with Emma, and made breakfast before she headed off to work, but then I kind of remained on the sofa for a bit longer doing a bit of Open Day-relatated social mediaing. And then the rain started, so I had went and showered dressed and headed out to feed the chickens and the bunnies. Even though I had my waterproofs on by the time I came in the rain had  been so heavy I was wet through. There was also a text waiting for me from Emma suggesting that, in this weather, it was maybe best if I didn’t do the cycle Tour de Bicester to go to the butchers and get veg from the market.

By the time Emma got back from work it was actually clearing up, but she came with to Launton and town anyway. I love it now, when I pitch up the butchers towards closing time on a Saturday, Lotte and John know in the butchers that I haven’t been in yet, and also what it is I’m likely to be wanting and so haven’t put it away yet.

Because it was getting late we got scrummy things for lunch Nash’s bakery, and had a late lunch. I wanted to spend time sorting out my novel for the unsolicited submission month at Jonathon Cape, and read some more of my book, but instead spent more time than is healthy for me trying to persuade my 4½-year old laptop to access the internet with the same speed that our Kindles do. I hate computers when they don’t do what I want them to do when I want them to. They are fantastic tools when they are doing the job in hand, but otherwise they are a pain in the bleedin’, soddin’ kneck… *mutter mutter grumble grumble*

I did do *something* to make the laptop situation improved, I think (maybe, possibly, in a fair wind…) so put it away (in possibly a small amount of a strop), made a nice pot of tea and sat out in the garden to read some of Alan Garner’s The Voice of Thunder. This is a book of essays/lectures he has given over the years about his writing, work, and research and is for the most part really accessible (I had been concerned that it might be, as sometimes his novels can be, although technically brilliant, a bit on the confusing side). I shall be reviewing this soon, maybe this week.

So dinner, spaghetti bolognaise – Emma’s favourite on-call meal – was a bit late. We caught up Friday’s Springwatch Unsprung, and Episodes, and that, was about it. So I did salvage something from a wet and frustrating day.

A bookophile’s book

A bookophile's book

55008Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.by Jeremy Mercer

This is a bookophiles book; a book for everyone who loves everything about books, and the written word. It is impossible that I wouldn’t love it.

I had little idea what to expect when I added this to my too read wish list. I have only recently discovered that Shakespeare & Co. is a real place. I first encountered it whilst watching the brilliant, Before Sunset. I just assumed that the bookshop was an invention of a clever script and a location manager – I never dreamed it was actually real until a friend posted a picture of them outside of it a few years later.

And what a marvellous truth it is that this bookshop does exist. Who hasn’t – or a least who who doesn’t also love books – dreamed of living in a bookshop. Next to eating and sleeping in a library, surely it is the most perfect of dreams. Time Was Soft There is Jeremy Mercer’s own story of the time when he ended up living and working, and writing, and loving in Shakespeare & Co., and through him you get the biography of the bookshops owner and creator, George Whitman.

The cast is bohemian, as are the stories, many of them self-contained in their nature. Indeed, for me, the book works best in the first two-thirds, when each chapter is pretty much a self-contained story. When we get towards the end of Mercer’s accounts, the book has more of an over-arching story, and this for me detracts from the portraits of individual characters. Even so, a wonderful book of a a wonderful place, that one day I will visit.

The world will grow again, fresh and green and beautiful

The world will grow again, fresh and green and beautiful

31IuxTwAorLTales of the Norse Gods by Barbara Leonie Picard, Rosamund Fowler (Illustrator)

This is a charming little book that takes you through the stories of the Norse Gods. There is an over-arching story that runs through the series of shorter tales hich could each be read, if you liked, individually.

Each story is headed up with a small woodcut which really does add to the appeal of this book. I think my favourite story in this collection is The Lady of the Vanir which features Loki, Freyia and the Brisen-gamen. I feel having read it that I should have read this years ago before tackling Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisengamen as I think I might finally be understanding Susan’s story in that.

But that’s the joy of a book like this. It tells the tales in a simple way, almost like fairy tale, or fable, or even as a kind of ‘Just So Story’. It’s a collection not to just entertain but to inspire. I am getting ideas of my own for a follow-up to The End Of All Worlds! But then this book invites sequels and retellings…

one day, out of the sea that had engulfed it, and out of the ruins, the world would grow again, fresh and green and beautiful; with fair people dwelling on it, born from Lifthrasir and Lif, the only man and woman to escape the fire

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Realistic language, WTF?

Realistic language, WTF?

Tonight on Front Row tonight they were discussing the challenges of keeping the dialogue of teenagers authentic with writer of E4′s Youngers Levi David Addai and star Calvin Demba, along with reflections from Val McDermid, Phil Redmond and Joss Whedon on how they’ve tried to make their teen characters ring true.

I always remember an interview in the Radio Times with Steven Moffatt (long before Doctor Who) about how he wrote Press Gang. He said, on the subject of naturalistic young dialogue that he couldn’t, not at 5.05pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Truly naturalistic dialogue would be to have a f-word a minute, and swear words peppered like punctuation. I was reminded of this only a few weeks ago as I found myself sat diagonally opposite by some college kids on the bus home. They were, if you listened – and their voices were loud enough that you couldn’t not – talking quite intelligently and profoundly but it was peppered like machine-gun fire with f-words.

The solution that Moffat found was to layer the dialogue with linguistic tricks and to write the kind of dialogue that 16-words would want to, and aspire to speak. Redmond and Whedon were saying something similar.

I agree with this stance. Truly naturalistic dialogue of whatever kind may be authentic, but it can be almost unreadable and can date very, very quickly. better i think to hint at a relaxed way of speech and allow the reader or the actor to bring their own interpretation.

Murder Mystery or Nordic Noir…?

Murder Mystery or Nordic Noir...?

9781849017756Frozen Out by Quentin Bates

I’ve not really read much detective fiction/thrillers so I am unused to the conventions of the genre but I enjoyed this book – the first in the Officer Gunnhildur series. It’s a story set at the height of the global credit crisis, and set in small-town Iceland. It’s a story that is bigger than just the murder of a man into an isolated harbour as it draws in corporate and political corruption.

You can tell that it’s supposed to be another thriller along the ‘Nordic Noir’ theme but I’m not sure it ever quite manages that. There are some very effective scenes that play with the lonely, and bleak isolation of the small town that mirrors Gunnhildur’s own life in many ways but at the same time it can be awkwardly pedestrian. There are a few too many scenes which for me tell too much but show me nothing as the action flits backwards and forwards between Reykjavik and Hvalvik.

I probably shouldn’t admit this as another English-born author who has written stories set in Iceland, but I found that even though Quentin Bates has apparently lived in Iceland for 10 years, I found that some of the language and narrative felt a bit too ‘English’. This is something that Hannah Kent (an Australian who only lived in Iceland for one year) managed so successful in her debut novel Burial Rites – indeed so much so that her portrait of Iceland is all too real.

I found the character of the Skandalblogger perhaps the most interesting meeting him or her only through their blog posts. I really hope that this is not the last we see of them, and that at some point we discover their real identity. I have my suspicions that we may have already have met them!

All in the best possible taste: discovering Grayson Perry

All in the best possible taste: discovering Grayson Perry

17995518The Vanity of Small Differences by Grayson Perry

Until recently I didn’t really no much about the Grayson Perry, except that he was a transvestite potter who had won the Turner Prize. His recent presentation of the BBC Reith Lectures opened up but his work as an artist in me but my interest in the Reith Lectures (neither of which I had really exposed myself too, before).

When we visited Birmingham last Saturday it was to go and look at the tapestries featured in this book (as well visiting the new, and excellent, Public Library), and seeing the six large, and incredibly detailed tapestries depicting the rise and fall of the fictional anti-hero Tim Rakewell and our response to class and taste that comes of that, it prompted me to buy this book and find out more.

Next up I want to watch the DVD of the Channel 4 documentary to see what inspired Perry to make the tapestries.

One Wish: the tricksy magic of Michelle Harrison

One Wish: the tricksy magic of Michelle Harrison

18756972One Wish by Michelle Harrison

Some people might think that stories about fairies are childish and silly and possibly inconsequential. Not so, the fey of Michelle Harrisons 13 Treasures books. They are dark and scary, tricksy and all too real.

With Michelle’s last book, Unrest, it looked like she was turning her back on her younger readers for something that was sheer terror to the bravest of adults and all the more brilliant for it. So when it was announced that her next book was to be a return to the 13 Treasures world ‘for younger readers’ and not just that but a prequel involving the story of Tanya younger than she was in the first, original, and award-winning book from 2009, I really was wondering what to expect, and how this could possibly work.

This book is not just a story for younger readers, it is a story for readers of every age, and it doesn’t hold back. When Tanya Fairchild arrives in Spinney Wicket she can already see fairies, and she learns that she has the second sight so is not so surprised when she encounters the Wishing Tree who delights in speaking in rhyme and wordplay. When she meets Ratty, she gets up in an adventure that is dark and dangerous and has lessons for us all about the importance of imagination, creativity, and the sense of self. As I read this book, whilst understandably gripped by the story, I also found myself nodding to the genuine insight into how life is, and found myself wanting to quote this line, and that phrase. A prequel to Tanya’s story, yes, but an adventure that in no way could have been written first.

Oh, and it’s also a book that might, just might, get children eating their Brussel sprouts!

One Wish is published by Simon & Schuster UK  on 5 June 2014
ISBN 9781471121654 | 352 pages | List Price £6.99