If You Want To Make Money – Don’t Be An Author!

Pennywise courtesy of knowyourmeme.com

So you want to write a book?

You want to make money from your fiction writing?

What are the chances you will?

What percentage of authors become successful? I’m going to be mean and throw some stuff at you – in the vain hope you won’t take up the ‘profession’ and leave more readers for me!!!

0025% of authors are successful (sell at least 1000 copies). 21 Apr 2016.’ https://www.creativindie.com

‘Just over 77% of self-published writers make $1,000 or less a year…’ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014

Unless you are incredibly multi-talented, then you’re going to have to pay for:

  • Editing: £300
  • Proofreading: £500
  • Book cover: £320 (ebook and print)
  • Printing cost (per book): £3.70

‘The total cost to hold your finished book in your hand would be £1123.70’ https://www.bookbeaver.co.uk/blog/cost-to-self-publish-a-book

Let’s imagine you worked 5 days a week, 8 hours a day on your novel, for 12 months. That’s a very generous estimate – as any writer will tell you it can take years for a book to reach fruition. And you worked all the Bank Holidays too, (my word, aren’t you dedicated?!) – There are 52 weeks in a year and 5 working days in each which comes to 260.

260 days x 8 hours = 2,080 hours writing. Assuming the above total cost (it could be higher or lower!), *Cue annoying clown voice* – “Congratulations! You were paid 0.54p per hour!

**Disclaimer: If my maths is incorrect at this point, please don’t bother to correct me. I’m not a mathmetician or statestician, I’m a writer and have no skill with numbers.

Let’s compare that to some ‘regular’ jobs. What do others make per hour, average?

Plumbers – £13.50

Nurses – £18

Teachers – £15.73

Train Drivers – £26.49

Bricklayer – £19

Solicitors – £23.08

Shop Assistant – £9.46

MacDonalds Server – £7.25

So, if you want to make money, go get a job as a train driver!

P.S: You can feel warm and fuzzy if you support my writing at

ko-fi.com/alexandrapeel

It’s Reading, Stoopid!

Idiocracy. Big Think. https://bigthink.com

This morning I was listening to a BBC Radio 4 podcast – Just One Thing with Michael Mosely.  Each week he puts forward a suggestion of one activity that can improve our health and wellbeing.

This week it was about reading. Michael discovers how losing yourself in a novel for a short time each day can boost your brainpower, improve social bonds and, surprisingly, help you live longer.

I’ve been hearing and reading a lot recently about the decline in reading and that humanity has reached its intelligence peak – it’s all downhill from here – apparently. According to some sources.

Is there a decline in reading?

‘only 23% of 0-17s read for pleasure daily or nearly every day, down from 26% in 2019 and 38% in 2012.’

As an author, I find this alarming. If people are reading less, and more writers are publishing books, then surely the pool of potential readers is going to become a muddy battlefield! Like those images of animals drinking from a diminishing watering hole – the giraffes, lions, and wildebeest are the writers, whilst the little puddle denotes the readers – depressing. Every writer for themselves!!

‘According to the National Literacy Trust, a major 16% of adults are considered to be ‘functionally illiterate’ in the United Kingdom. Literacy levels are falling among the younger generations and it is stated that 1 in 5 adults struggle to read and write.’

Is the UK getting dumber?

‘Two in five (43%) Britons say they read for pleasure at least once a week, with a third (35%) doing so multiple times and 19% of UK adults reading every day. Britain’s keenest readers tend to be older, with 34% of Brits over 55 saying they read at least once a day, compared to just 7% of 18 to 24-year-olds.’

‘Readability data suggest that the average reading age of the UK population is 9 years – that is, they have achieved the reading ability normally expected of a 9-year-old. The Guardian has a reading age of 14 and the Sun has a reading age of 8.25’. Given that the average reading age of a GCSE exam paper is 15 years and 7 months, how can we expect young people to pass these exams if they cannot read and understand what’s on the paper in front of them?

Another report by the OECD found that England is the only country in the developed world in which adults aged 55-to-65 perform better in literacy and numeracy than those aged 16-to-24. That is, my age group reads more and has a higher literacy comprehension than my daughter’s age group – one day, the 55-65-year-olds will be dead – this means that in time, the basic skills of the English labour force could fall further behind those of other countries.

Not just the UK.

Total book reading is declining significantly, according to some studies in America. The percentage of the U.S. adult population reading any books has declined by -7 per cent over the past decade. It has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years. Less than half of the adult American population now reads literature.’ I’m simply stunned. From a purely selfish point of view – who will buy my books?!

And it’s not just Western countries. India is seeing a decline in the number of young people reading. ‘”It is not that students are not acquiring knowledge, but they browse the internet instead of reading books,” said Patna University English teacher Shiv Jatan Thakur. Browsing (like wildebeest) seems to be the norm.

We’ve seen diminishing numbers of visitors to libraries. Local libraries, school and college libraries, have become ‘Learning Resource’ centres, where students can go onto a computer to work – the books on the shelves sit sadly, overlooked, unread. Just give me a moment to pull myself together….

Places like the Netherlands and Norway, those countries I would usually have held up as examples of culturally intelligent, are also noticing this decline. What on earth is going on?

IQ = Idiocy Quotient?

Is there a connection between IQ and reading/literacy rates? Is there a connection between declining IQ and reading rates, and TV or similar media consumption?

In Norway, Ole Rogeberg and Bernt Bratsberg, of the Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research in Oslo, analysed the scores from a standardized IQ test of more than 730,000 men who reported [in Norway] for national service between 1970 and 2009. They saw a decline in IQ scores.

The results showed that those born in 1991 scored about five points lower than those born in 1975, and three points lower than those born in 1962. These results, we are informed, are applicable not just in Norway, but also globally. Our IQ levels are falling – and no one knows why!

Are humans getting dumber? Have we reached our homogenised collective intellectual pinnacle as a species? Or can I not see the wood for the trees? Am I being pessimistic? Will a ‘new breed’ arise that will invigorate our collective intelligence (or lack thereof), make reading for pleasure the norm and save the planet? I bloody well hope so, because it’s not looking too great at the moment folks!

Who or What Is to Blame?

It’s easy – and lazy? – to blame the internet/TikTok/Twitter/Facebook et al. Some studies show that reading for pleasure, or leisure reading, has been in decline since the late 80s early 90s…well before the widespread use of electronic hardware. The Netherlands has long blamed television.

One study found people could retain and process data significantly better if their smartphones were in another room. Just turning their phone off, or hiding it in a pocket or bag, didn’t work; phone owners still suffered brain drain when their device was nearby. Let’s pause and absorb this…. okay. So, what they’re saying is, that the proximity of a smartphone hinders one’s ability to think. Hmm, so shouldn’t we be banning them from classrooms? Or am I curtailing people’s freedoms?

Is it genetic? What is the makeup of the study groups? There’s the ‘dumb people have more babies’ hypothesis, but research shows that even within single families IQ has declined. Is it our environment? Is it something ‘in the water’? Have we created a stupid-inducing culture?

In the multitude of studies on declining IQ, they’ve shown the impact of technology obsession, genetics, poor diets, quality of schooling, and, yes, you guessed it folks – decline in reading!

Finland

Finland is the world’s most literate nation, according to new research, with the UK coming in 17th, behind countries including the US, Canada and Australia.

Finland has been coming top of the literacy tables for a very long time now. Studies would suggest there is not only something inherent within their culture but whatever goes on in their education system is, quite frankly, brilliant. I’ve read that teaching in Finland is a well-respected profession. The application process is difficult, and teachers are very well paid.

Some 22.2% of adults in Finland aged 16 to 65 attain the two highest levels of proficiency in literacy (Level 4 or 5) compared with the average of 11.8% of adults in all participating countries. What their studies are revealing is, that young Finns are more literate than older Finns. This is a reverse of the UK where the literate are older. Does this mean that Finland is producing the ‘new breed’ that I spoke of earlier? In twenty, thirty, or forty years, will we all be speaking and reading Finnish? Funny how the country that gave birth to the inventors of internet browsers – that thing some of us want to blame for our low literacy rates, is also the most literate!

Read More Books

          So, back to Michael at the BBC. I began by introducing Mr Mosely’s podcast as an attempt to get listeners to try something different to help make their lives better. To increase our well-being, our physical and mental states, and more.

             During the course of the programme, he hopes to “…boost my empathy and my mental health…” through daily reading. A test subject takes on the challenge for a week, and Mosely speaks to some clever chap who conducted studies. We are told that reading can increase brain activity, and productivity and create neural pathways! What’s not to love about that?!

             People complain that they don’t have time to read. Reading novels is something that can be fitted into each day, bedtime might suit best. But a chapter here or there isn’t going to take up much time. Read in the bath. Read during your lunch breaks. Put your feet up after a day in the office, grab a cuppa and a book, escape for a while. Go on, do it! Mr Mosely reveals that reading actually is more beneficial to mental health than a spa day!

Larry David giving himself a talking to. curbyourlarrydavid
Tv tv tv!! That’s all you can do. READ A FUCKING BOOK!
https://www.instagram.com/p/8d8zhcixww/https://www.instagram.com/p/8d8zhcixww/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00187ws

https://www.readingzone.com/news/dramatic-decline-in-reading-for-pleasure

https://yougov.co.uk/topics/entertainment/articles-reports/2020/03/05/world-book-day-britons-reading-habits

https://www.ascento.co.uk/blog/are-you-aware-of-how-literate-your-employees-are

https://literacytrust.org.uk/information/what-is-literacy/how-does-englands-literacy-compare-other-countries/

https://www.latimes.com/books/la-xpm-2013-jul-10-la-et-jc-what-makes-you-stop-reading-a-book-20130709-story.html

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/annals-the-emotions/201807/don-t-people-enjoy-reading-anymore

https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/research-confirms-it-really-are-getting-dumber.htm

I Did a Thing!

36,896 Vintage kids Stock Photos | Free & Royalty-free Vintage kids Images  | Depositphotos
Vintage photo curtesy of https://depositphotos.com/

Hello again, yes, it’s been a while, but hey, pandemic, etc.

Double exciting news! I did a thing – well, two things.

First, I was interviewed by Vince Stephenson about my book, Beneath the Skin. Vince runs a YouTube channel called Boomers on Books, in which he interviews authors from around the world. Vince is primarily interested in first-time and up-and-coming authors. I was put in contact with Vince via a member of the #WritingCommunity on Twitter.

Beneath the Skin: Where Sleeps the Serpent?
and The Song of the Nightingale

It was went live this morning, Tuesday 27th July, and remains there for all to see and pick apart my daft answers.

So, how did it go? Okay – I think. I was rather nervous, and the 9:00 start saw me a bit bleary eyed and fuzzy. When I watched it back I realised that I hadn’t really said much about my book – I did not mention that the protagonist has an inborn ability. She is a Nagi. I did not mention that she has excellent fighting skills based on the Kerala martial art, Kalaripayattu. I did not mention that her friend and first mate is a Princess!

Why not? I don’t know, nerves? I tend to blether a lot when I am nervous, and later realise that I didn’t get to the point. I could have said so much more, but I am, unfortunately, not eloquent when it comes to the spoken word.

My second big news is that I have published my latest book. Hurrah!

The Floating Church is a novella set in the early 17th century. It follows thirteen-year-old Susanna Assheby in the time leading up to and just after the May Day celebrations. Thirty days on the cusp of womanhood. The isolated village of Hope Ghyll sits on the border of England and Scotland, hovering between Pagan beliefs and Christianity. A new minister brings news of the death of Queen Elizabeth, and staunch ideas on how his flock should behave.

The book is historical fiction, with hints of magical realism.

If the rest of the summer continues in the same vein, then I should have completed another short story or two, and maybe another novella!

Many thanks for reading, I hope you and yours are safe and well, and, if you’re a writer, artist, musician, then I wish you a productive summer.

And finally, many thanks to Vince for having me on his channel. He was a lovely interviewer and kind to let me rant and ramble.

Happy New Writing Year

Hello! Happy New Year. And welcome to the first post of 2021.

It’s been a while, I know, but some of you will already be familiar with my haphazard, impetuous and remissful style of blogging. *shrug*

It’s been a tough year for many people, some of us have lost family and/or friends, some have been in a negative place emotionally – but I’m not here to talk about the gloom, let’s look forward and think positive.

At the turning of the year, many like to think about how we might improve ourselves; resolutions and so forth – I spent a lot of the lockdown period thinking this over already, and decided that I was extremely lucky, for tonnes of reasons which I am not going to recount here, instead, I want to think about the successes and future endeavours.

Last year saw me (finally) publishing my novel – Beneath the Skin. A Steampunk duology about an Indian-Irish airship courier who unwittingly becomes embroiled in the politics of a secret society within the British East India Company. Plus, I won our writing group annual in-house short story competition! Which came with a cup (still needs to be engraved).

Beaneath the Skin covers for Parts One & Two

I don’t make New Years resolutions, or all-encompassing lists of things -to-do, but I am determined to begin this year as I mean to go on, both personally and workwise. I will continue to watch my diet (lost almost 2 stone between Nov 2019 and Dec 2020), I intend to get more exercise (continue to do 40 sit-ups a night) and be more joyful and thankful for the simple things.

On the writing front: on 24th December I put in 2 submissions; one for flash fiction competition. On the 31st December, I submitted my novella to a publishing company, and on the 1st January, I submitted a sci-fi short story and a poem to two separate competitions.

Cover design for novella The Floating Church

I’m one of those writers who don’t seem to have one specific/favourite genre. And that’s okay. Where does it say that you should write just Romance, or Fantasy? I have a LOT of stories piling up in notebooks and stuffing my brain, and I don’t see why any of them shouldn’t be written – how well they are written is a different matter!

 I read on social media, that some writers get stuck with their writing, they’ve finished a first draft, then sort of… dry up. Or think they do. I have only one piece of advice, that you’ve probably heard a million times before – keep writing – but I’d say specifically, WRITE SOMETHING ELSE. Unless you are contracted to create something within a certain timeline, you’re pretty much free to write whatever you so choose. If you find the juices drying up on a novel, pack it away and go and write a piece of flash fiction or a short for a competition. This is the key bit – FOR A COMPETITION. You will be pressured into writing in a different style or format than you’re used to, and have a limited time to get it done. A change is as good as a rest.

Looking ahead, I hope to get my current fantasy WIP completed and also the YA sci-fi novel completed. I’ve never done a book promo or anything like that, once I put something out there, it’s on its own. But I see that I’ve been rather negligent, so perhaps some of that will be going on too.

I have also decided to be less critical of other people (and myself). I converse with another writer on Twitter, we pointed out the fact that writers (and other creatives) put work before the public for more reasons than money (hell, if money was the aim, I wouldn’t write!) and sometimes that piece of work isn’t as good, when one looks back on it, as one originally thought. This is the nature of creativity, it’s always (or should be) going to improve as one progresses. Unfortunately, that means that people reading your ‘older’ stuff might find it full of faults.

Hey ho, that’s life, is all I can say.

In the meantime, keep writing, painting, filming, dancing, playing, singing, doing whatever it is you do, and have fun doing it. I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful year ahead.

Bless you for reading my nonsense.

Book Review – The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking: a novel, by Timothy Balding

I need to make some apologies first. It has been a long time since I posted a book review, and I feel I have somewhat let my readers down – but hey, this blog isn’t called Flailing Through Life for no reason!

I also need to apologise to the author I am reviewing today, Timothy Balding, as I read this book some time ago – last October to be exact, and I am sure that I promised to write something about it, what can I say? I’m a slow reader and a lazy blogger! And, another person to apologise to – Emma Lombard author and ‘mother’ of the Twitter #WritingCommunity, who has probably been wondering when I was going to get around to this. So, without further ado, here’s my take on The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking…

The Man Who Couldn't Stop Thinking: A Novel: Timothy Balding ...
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking
by Timothy Balding

Genre: Fiction, Satire
Pub Date: 2019
Publisher: Upper West Side Philosophers, Incorporated
Length: 274 pages
Kindle Edition: £7.91

Synopsis

Victor Andrews cannot decide whether thinking is a good thing or not. He has managed to escape it till now, too occupied with his career and the pursuit of his romantic and carnal ambitions. A heart operation and an inheritance suddenly change all that. He has time on his hands and new ambitions to invent for himself. If he starts thinking, will it take him forwards or backwards? he wonders. Will it lead him out of the confused labyrinth of his life and give it some new meaning before it’s too late? Or push him to join the company of the crazy people who chase endlessly the tails of their obsessions?

Firstly, I must tell you that I was bought this book by the writer Emma Lombard. On a Twitter post, she ran a competition asking the community which book they would most like to read at that moment. I responded, and was one of three individuals who received their chosen book. Also, I must add, that she bought me the paperback version AND had it posted to me! So many, many thanks to @LombardEmma.

Secondly, this is not the sort of book to read if you’re after action or huge dramatic scenes. It is very low key, with a few sections of dialogue, and mostly focuses on Victor’s day to day musings and concerns. But that isn’t to say it isn’t a good read, it is. In fact I found it to be one of the most interesting books I have read in a long while.

8 common mistakes people make when ordering whisky and how to ...
Wee dram of whisky, image courtesy of Scotsman Food and Drink

Victor has just had surgery again, and (this is only my take as a female of a certain age!) is possibly going through a mid-life crisis; I have to admit that the opening scene made me laugh a lot, still does when I re-read it, a good example of how to grab your audience’s attention! Instead of succumbing to mastering ‘the use of a boomerang’ or taking ‘up skateboarding’, he buys an African grey parrot which he decides to teach phrases such as Nietzsche’s “God is dead.”

The parrot becomes a kind of sounding board for Victor and his philosophising, beginning with questioning his own motives for buying the bird, “Was his act the realization of a tyrannical dream of power, he joked to himself?” and later questions his own motives for teaching the parrot the phrase “God is dead” and how humanity could possibly continue without hope and a deity. He also has a relationship with a woman called Helen, who I would say is Victor’s intellectual equal, but doesn’t give credence to some of his ideas; she comes across as somewhat acerbic and I quite honestly don’t see how Victor stays with her.

Balding’s writing style made me think of British authors from a bygone age. It strikes me as terribly British and a little old fashioned; this is not a criticism, far too many aspiring writers concern themselves with being unique and ‘modern’ instead of concentrating on producing good writing. It is deceptively easy to read – but not to be rushed! Victor’s self-questioning (and self-questing) had me pausing for long moments to give some thought to, well, Victor’s thoughts (but without the whisky). There is no superfluity in his writing, Balding has the skill that many of us budding authors so crave, the ability to write concisely and to the point.

Objectivity and subjectivity drive Victor through his post-op life – he asks, how can a person make decisions if one cannot see the world from the perspective of others? Who is responsible for one’s personal happiness? And “I know I’m egocentric…but I will try harder.” Though I cannot say that I fully understood every philosophical musing, nor every reference to research topics that Victor had undertaken, I was acutely aware that I was probably missing something due to my lack of acquired knowledge or intellect, but I still found the story fascinating. And although Victor seems to suffer minor existential crises internally, he never comes across as morose, or self-obsessed. I found the character to be less white-middle-aged-man-with-English-pomp, and more bemused-middle-aged-man-seeking-the-truth; I felt I could relate to him very much. Victor’s musings are funny and he has a much more positive and generous attitude toward his fellow human beings than many folk I know in real life.

He makes statements like “Women were as unpredictable as Belgians.” which made me laugh out loud, because it’s so English and so male, but, and it’s an important but, this never comes across as offensive, because Victor always quizzes his own opinions and offers us facts that he has dredged up from news articles or papers he has read. I found myself reading a paragraph and thinking, Yes, I think this or I have done that – spouting off my theories to a stranger then wondering why on earth I did that. When I tried to describe the book to friends, I found it really difficult, why would a woman want to read the musings of a middle aged man? one asked me. I can’t explain. To the uninitiated, I suppose Victor Andrews might epitomise all that is wrong with white men of a certain age, however, I found him to be lovely, thoughtful, witty, erudite and at least he’s trying! It also goes a bit Kafkaesque near the end when Victor is interrogated! Maybe I just find ‘male humour’, if it exists, to be funnier than female?

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but hear the voice of Roger Allam, whose voice is very distinctive, very English. I adore Roger Allam and his voice, you might recognise him from the film ‘V for Vendetta’ and the TV show ‘The Thick of It’. And I would love, simply love this book to be made into a radio or TV drama with Mr. Allam in the lead, though what the author Mr.Balding would have to say about that I don’t know!

Roger Allam - IMDb
Roger Allam, English actor

If you’re after some good strong writing that is humorous as well as thought provoking, I can thoroughly recommend this book.

I’m giving The Man Who Could’t Stop Thinking 5 stars.

The difference between an essay, a report and a story. In brief…

What’s the difference between an essay, a report and a story?

I see this question a lot from people in secondary school, Further Education colleges, and even University students! I’m talking about UK students, I believe elsewhere they teach the difference quite early on. When I was in school – back in the 1970s and 80s, the English teacher would set an essay writing task – what she meant was – write a story. So I never learnt until late adulthood what the difference is. I’m not an academic, so this is going to be basic…

A very brief run-through of the differences.

First off, they’re written in different styles. Essays and Reports tend to be written in a formal, academic style with attention to grammar and spelling. While a story is a sequence of real or, most commonly, fictional events told in any manner that the author chooses.

A report is a summary of an event and an essay explores a particular issue or subject. Both start with an introduction, body with discussions and/or analysis, and finally a conclusion. The main difference is purpose; an essay presents writer’s personal ideas and opinions, a report provides unbiased information.

Basic lexicon of related words –

Essay: describes, analyses, evaluates, combination of facts, statistics, personal opinions, descriptive, narrative, argumentative, persuasive, and expository.

Report: systematic, well organised, defines, analyses, provides information, sections, headings, and sub-headings.

Story: narrative, novel, short story, novella, plot, characters, genre specific, entertaining, aesthetic, creative, tale, chronicle, dramatic.

See the same event in these three examples below:-

Story Extract

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: A Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction

We came to a narrow tributary of the Amazon River, about eight feet across, dotted with floating islands, clumps of debris washed downhill with the rains. Raising our packs above our heads we waded. Something glided just beneath the surface; I halted so as not to draw its attention, Daniel squealed as it touched his thigh. Things gibbered above us in the overhanging branches, creaks and croaks resounded all about. We crossed three more tributaries before the end of day.
Exhausted and soaked in foul smelling swamp water. With the fauna of the forest reduced in our wake by; four stabbed snakes, a shot river dolphin, two blasted parrots, an incapacitated capybara, an assaulted alligator, numerous leeches burnt and a frog that popped when Daniel stepped on it, behind us, it was time to take it easy.
On (relatively) dry land, we made camp for the night. Whilst I cleaned my blades and blasters, Doppler did whatever one did to bright blue frogs to coax some venom from them, Daniel made
tea; and jolly good it was too,
You’ll make someone a lovely wife one day Daniel.” Says I with a wry smile.’

 

Essay version

Although not mentioned within the body of this particular extract, we can glean the narrator’s name from the title of the book. Lucy Lockhart, renowned treasure hunter, and her assistant, Theodora Doppler have arrived in the Amazonian jungle with cartographer, Daniel.

They cross a series of tributaries en route to their destination. Lockhart describes the area as being difficult terrain that the party need to wade through, with unknown things gliding beneath the surface of the water, small islands of earth, and animals in the surrounding environs. Daniel – whom Lockhart has previously described as ‘a lily-livered clerk’, is evidently extremely uncomfortable in this environment. The party have during their progress, killed or maimed a number of animals, including a river dolphin. Although this is a short section from a longer tale, one could surmise that this is not an unusual situation, for at least one of these characters, to be in. They are kitted out for travelling; otherwise, mention would be made of the inconvenience of attire in the circumstances. No-one in the party truly complains, or seems surprised by the ‘foreignness’ of the situation – the names suggest that these are all English characters.

One might argue that Lockhart has a blasé attitude to her comrades as well as the flora and fauna hereabouts. She does not speak of the beauty of her surroundings, only the death left in her wake. It could also be said that she has an Imperialistic indifference to animals and people. The party eventually find some dry-ish land to rest and recuperate on. The cartographer is once again the butt of Lockhart’s teasing, as he makes tea for the party.

In conclusion, one could surmise that the narrator; Lockhart, is if not enjoying the situation, relishing the discomfort of one companion; Daniel. We get the impression that she is unconcerned for the welfare of wildlife and this does not sit well with a modern audience. She is, however, determined, skilled with weapons, so capable of looking after herself and has a sense of humour.

 

Report version

A trio of adventurers are on some sort of quest in the Amazonian jungle. From this extract, we cannot determine what it is they seek, nor how long they have been here. We do know that they cross a number of tributaries on their journey, so the terrain is not easily navigable. We have no way of knowing how the characters are related, nor what their relationships are like. The main character; the narrator, refers to one by her surname; Doppler and the other by his first name, Daniel. This might suggest that the relationship between the two women is stronger than that with the male, as females rarely refer to themselves or each other by surname.

Lockhart

Though unnamed in this extract, Lucy Lockhart is the narrator, the protagonist of this adventure. She is clearly the leader of the party, as the other two characters follow her, and she is skilled in using various weapons – as evidenced by the killing and maiming of a number of creatures – some of which we might assume she has dispatched herself. At the end of the passage, the narrator is cleaning her blades. This tells us that she carries a number of knives, or swords, about her person. Her description of the animal slaughter – ‘stabbed’, ‘blasted’, ‘incapacitated’, ‘assaulted’, suggests a level of humour on her part at the demise of such creatures. The fact that she likes to tease Daniel, the cartographer, also gives us a small insight into her personality – which leads one to question the agreeableness of this character.

The Amazon

The party reach a tributary in the Amazon River – a tributary is a river or stream flowing into a larger river or lake. We know that it is eight feet wide and is ‘dotted with islands’. There has been a heavy rain at some point in the near past, as we are told that there is debris from uphill. The Amazon contains a wide variety of animals including capybara, parrots, alligators and snakes, among other things. There are also unseen creatures living in the trees, as evidenced by, ‘Things gibbered above us in the overhanging branches,’ Even though this is a tributary of the main river, we know that it is fairly deep, as the party must carry their belongings over their heads to prevent equipment from getting wet.

Doppler

There is little mention of this character in the passage. What we can glean is that she is intrepid – otherwise she would not be on such a venture, and she is skilled in poisons. At the end of the passage, she is trying to extract poison from small frogs. From this, we might conclude that she A) knows about animal poisons, and B) has used poisons in the past. One might further conjecture that this tells us that Doppler is either a medic, a collector, or quite simply – a poisoner.

Daniel

There is very little information about this character; however, we can speculate that he is not comfortable in this environment. He is probably frightened of the wildlife, ‘Daniel squealed as it touched his thigh.’ He also makes a good cup of tea; Lockhart comments on it, whilst simultaneously taking a sideways swipe at his manhood.

We might conclude from this extract that the tale is not set in the present day. The narrator carries bladed weapons and at least one gun, which she refers to as ‘blades and blasters.’ This is not parlance from the 21st century, neither is ‘Says I…’ The narrator is clearly sexist from a contemporary reader’s point of view, otherwise she would not use the phrase “You’ll make someone a lovely wife one day Daniel.” In our 21st century society, there is little issue with stay-at-home husbands. In addition, the narrator’s attitude towards killing animals is not commendable, from a modern standpoint. We do not condone the careless destruction of wildlife to suit our own means, and none of the characters seems disconcerted at their demise.

 

I hope this has been of some use, to someone, somewhere.

 

Should you be at all interested – The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: A Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction is available on Amazon https://www.amazon.de/Life-Crimes-Lockhart-Doppler-Illustrated/dp/1723026891

 

Book Review: The Spherical Trust by Mjke Wood

Image result for the spherical trust by Mjke Wood
The Sphere of Influence, Book III. The Spherical Trust

Genre: Sci-fi
Pub Date: 2018
Publisher: Copperbird Press
Length: 421
pages
Kindle Edition:
£2.99

Synopsis

Bob Slicker is back, with stature. But being King of the Sphere of Influence isn’t everything he imagined. He’s convinced someone’s out to get him.
Elton D Philpotts has never been away, and he also has new-found status. But being a Finance Director isn’t everything he imagined. Is someone out to get Elton, too?
Only one man has an ego big enough to carry two such massive grudges, but Martin Levison is gone, lost in deep space with no route home. So who else wants Philpotts and Slicker dead?
The threat is bigger than one man. This time there’s more to save than a lost planet or a ragtag band of mercenaries. This time the future of the whole Sphere of Influence is in play.

The final chapter in the Sphere of Influence trilogy, feels like it’s been a long time coming; but worth the wait!

In Deep Space Accountant, the hero came in the unlikely form of Elton D Philpotts; the titular accountant, who has little confidence and an obsession with numbers bordering on OCD.

With The Lollipop of Influence, the previously odious, and sweaty, Bob Slicker had to team up with navigation officer, Florence McConnachie, to escape the planet they had been abandoned on.

The Spherical Trust brings the whole cast together – including the re-emergence of arch enemy, Martin Levison. We get to meet Elton’s parents; albeit briefly in his father’s case, but Polina Philpotts is a woman to be reckoned with, I really liked her. She is one of those practical, common-sense women who knows politics, isn’t intimidated by it and will chain herself to a rock to save a beauty spot – we could do with more like her in the real world. (And this is where the title comes from – think National Trust!)

This third book ties together the previous two in directions I had not imagined would be the case. It has nearly all of the characters racing across known and unknown space; bouncing from planet to planet in the Sphere of Influence, in a dizzying race that accelerates not in a machine-gun blazing, cinematic, all-American heroic manner, but in that bumbling British style that has many comic moments.

There’s a lot about how we, as a species, take our environment for granted; without being preachy – if there’s one thing Mjke Wood does not do, it’s preach. Like when Elton discovers where all the waste goes:

Elton pondered on it. He looked at the size of the pipe, vibrating with the onrushing surge of excrement. He thought of the volumes he’d seen gushing in from all corners. He thought about the time frame, one hundred and sixty years. Out there, somewhere in space, was a place where you would not want to crack open your spacesuit helmet for a nanosecond, because there was one mighty bad smell.

I could not see how Wood was going to tie everything together; especially when he incorporated the Teddy’s – child-minding teddy bears, introduced killer bees and a whole section of a planet devoted to Norwegians who loved to sing at all hours of the day. I could not envision how certain events could be addressed in a single book; such as how to save a planet, how the bad guy gets his comeuppance (if he does), and what do all those numbers mean?!

But he does it. And he does it well.

There is a quintessential Britishness to Wood’s writing, like Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, Wood has lovingly crafted characters who are appealing; for the most part, silly; a lot of the time, and prone to making mistakes like the rest of us. We follow the multiple viewpoints through interstellar blunderings, cringing board meetings, ripped pants, assassination attempts, and waste management. Wood has a, seemingly, effortless style that can be deceptive, his work is very easy to read, but it is not light on the science in science-fiction. He does not shy away from dealing with scientific terms, there’s mathematical problems he has evidently had to solve, such as the time differentiation between planetary travel and enough technicalities to keep readers of hard sci-fi happy.

If there was a criticism I would make, it would be that I think it could have been longer. There was a lot of information to compact into a novel this size – though I can understand the author wanting to keep all books in a trilogy of similar length. I would, for instance, have liked more about Russ Kurosov the muscle-bound Commando who had a special ‘Jim’. A the end of the trilogy, a note from the author reads, I have ideas for stand-alone novels set in the Sphere, with new characters, new problems and new insanity. I can only hope that Kurosov is one of those selected for further investigation!

Oh, a little addendum – there’s an Easter Egg throughout the story. I had one of those hang on a minute moments. Copperbird, the huge corporation that runs all sorts from prisons to heated boots, is the imprint the books are published under!

I’m giving The Spherical Trust

4 Stars

Book Review: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Genre: Fantasy
Pub Date:
2008
Publisher:
Gollancz, an imprint of Orion Publishing Group
Length:
536 pages
Paperback:
£12.99

Publisher’s Synopsis

The end is coming.

Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but its going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy. Its past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

https://firstlaw.fandom.com/wiki/Last_Argument_of_Kings

Back in January 2017, I wrote a review of The Blade Itself. I ‘won’ it in a book swap. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a three-year journey for me into the world of Logan Ninefingers and his motley band of Northmen.

What to say about a trilogy that got mixed reviews and a massive following that led to a well visited wiki Fandom, that I was, on and off, submerged into for three years?

Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie – he writes amazing characters.

Logan Ninefingers is Still alive. Continues fighting, and is drawn into, not only personal conflict in the North, but the greatest battle in the Union. Last Argument of Kings finds him questioning himself more and more – is he a good man, or an evil man? Is he fit to lead his band, or best serving as a follower? Should he allow his barbarian, mindless, other self; The Bloody Nine, to take control in battle, or give up and welcome death?

Ninefingers has been our prime MC throughout the trilogy; as it is him who begins the first book and ends the third, and as he matures, so his view on his own lifestyle is called into question – can a man so steeped in blood and violence opt for a peaceful life – does he even deserve it?

Abercrombie has given us a (anti)hero who could easily have been a pedestrian D&D style character, but despite what some critics say, I do believe he develops. He may not stop fighting, but he lets us know, via internal dialogue, that he wishes the whole bloody affair over and done with. His is a cerebral development; strangely, given that he’s a mercenary, a killer – a murderer. I say it’s cerebral because Ninefingers thinks about what he has done and how he came to be where he is. He thinks about how it might be if he changed, and realises that because he has so much history of violence and a reputation for it, then the chances are pretty slim. This is a melancholic chapter in his, and the reader’s, journey.

Related image
Logan Ninefingers.
Image from
comicvine.gamespot.com

Jezel Dan Luther returns to Adua, his home city. Physically scarred from his journey to the West (Book II: Before They Are Hanged). He is still a young man with dreams to match, yet changed by his experiences. He is a little less brash, a lot less selfish – and in for a terrible time. He thinks to marry the woman he loves; Ardee West. He thinks to settle down into some well-paid post of Captain. Jezel, unlike Ninefingers, gets little chance to think, he must do as he is told; because of the position he finds himself thrust into. His choices become shockingly limited; despite his new-found role, and he can only react to situations. Jezel does his damnedest to be a decent man and feels thwarted at every turn. In the first book, I reacted to Jezel as, I’m sure Abercrombie meant me to, with contempt. He was a superficial, selfish little shit. In this final book, I desperately wanted it all to work out for him.

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Jezel Dan Luther.
Image from GeeklyInc

Superior of the Inquisition, Sand Dan Glokta, is still in the secrets trade. We still get that oppositional internal dialogue when he speaks with others; A shame to leave such lovely company…but when duty calls. He thinks after a short interview with Arch Lector Sult. Glokta probably changes least of all. This could be attributed to the fact that a man so crippled and steeped in politics and up to his elbows in others blood and bile hardly has much choice. He cannot run; literally, he would not be able to hide for sure, and he knows that at any point his bloated corpse might end up floating down the river. But Glokta still held my interest, why? Simply because he sticks to what he knows best, which is staying alive. There are, however, two very touching scenes. One involves his old fencing friend from his youth, Collem West, the other involves West’s sister, Ardee. It is interesting to watch Glokta in the face of helplessness, he always expects the worst outcome – but for two instances, he hopes, not for himself, but for Collem and Ardee.

I have to admit to having a lump in my throat when Glokta encounters his old friend who has been struck down with a hideous disease.

Of course there are many, many other characters who deserve mention – The Last of the Magi; Bayez, The Dogman, Black Dow, Ferro Maljinn, Severard, but I couldn’t do them all justice in a simple blog post.

There are few men with more blood on their hands than me.

Logan Ninefingers knows all about fighting and death, and there is a tonne of it in this book. The battles are hideously well written. The fight on Crummock i’Phail’s hill fort is astonishingly violent and immersive. It was like being behind the wobbly wooden barricade with them, as they waited in the dawn mist watching Bethod’s army waiting to move. Fingers, limbs, heads, every possible body part is pierced and sliced and skewed and bludgeoned. How on earth Abercrombie found so many words and phrases to describe death in battle is beyond me. It isn’t a huge cinematic blockbuster of a war, it’s one of those horrible localised battles; sure there’s hundreds of men involved, but we are exposed to the horror of hand-to-hand fighting, the smells and the grunting, the feel of steel sliding on bone. We see our ‘hero’, Logan Ninefingers do a truly horrible thing. In previous books we have seen skirmishes and battles, we have seen blood and guts, but this battle is truly mayhem. How can the reader possibly relate to the character after committing such an atrocious act? But here’s the thing, I did!

The final battle in Adua is equally violent, with a dash of Bayez’ magic thrown in for good measure. Sometimes, battles in films and books can be so expansive, so huge that we cannot really get a feel for what is going on. Abercrombie gives us snapshots of the city through the eyes of each character as he, or she, struggles to survive. This way we see what it is like to be a refugee from one’s own home, the starving peasant, the soldier who actually is scared, ruination where once stood beauty.

It’s bleak. It’s dark. It’s depressing. And so it should be. War is no fun for anyone; even those who signed up for it in the first place – because it is fucking dangerous, and we can feel this in the people fleeing, in Jezel’s desperation to lend a hand, in Ninefingers mad rush into a row of pikemen, in West’s hasty assault with his cavalry and infantrymen. And I was totally engaged.

I have read reviews that said the writing is ‘clunky’. I have read that people found it boring, or everyone dies (everyone doesn’t die by the way). I thought the writing was succinct, none of that Tolkeinesque, flowery stuff, just your good, solid writing that I feel fits the style of narrative. I still like that Abercrombie kept the chapters as seen from different points of view, and the internal dialogue is wonderful. It isn’t fantastic writing – but then again, I’m not sure what that means – a thoroughly academic command of the written word AND the ability to create an amazing story AND engaging characters AND…whatever else?

But it’s a fantastic tale well told.

Boring? Boring?! I can’t imagine what they were reading. This is not a boring book. It keeps the pace of the previous two, action, violence and intrigue, interspersed with quieter moments to alter the pace. Abercrombie manages to avoid clichés very well, the whole thing could easily have tipped into another fighting fantasy book with swords and sorcery and blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t. I’ve picked up loads of books in the fantasy genre and then tossed them aside after a couple of chapters (and that was being generous in some instances).

Not to spoil it, but everyone doesn’t die. Some do – I’m not saying who – some survive in the same way they always have; by their wits or by violence, and some survive because they bend with the times.

We don’t always get what we want – could be the moral of the story (if there has to be one). Or, be careful what you wish for, you might get it!

You see, like real life, sometimes good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Is there a ‘happy ending’? I’m not sure, but I was not expecting that.

I always have a little sad moment when I complete a book, and this was no exception. I’m going to miss drinking wine with Ardee, struggling down dank staircases with Glokta, and wrestling with my conscience with Logan Ninefingers. I’m not sure I can leave it all behind, I might have to go after other titles by Joe Abercrombie – and that for me is what makes a good, if not great, storyteller.

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Cover of first volume of The First Law comic book covering The Blade Itself.
Image from GeeklyInc

I’m giving Last Argument of Kings (and The First Law trilogy)

5 stars

#IndieAuthors: It’s Trending on Twitter

Good morning all.

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There’s something rather wonderful happening on Twitter this morning. In fact, it will be a month long happening.

#indieauthors is surely on it’s way to ‘Trending’ right now, with writers and readers from across the globe sharing their book titles and buying like there’s no tomorrow.

I believe the tag was started by @agletterman, a writer who joined the #WritingCommunity on Twitter a few months ago and has posted daily, almost, about writing, authors, the craft of writing and has been encouraging other writers to interact and share their questions and solutions to issues ranging from – what do I do when I have writer’s block? To should I kill off my darlings?

I don’t know who began the #WritingCommunity hashtag – I like to think I had a hand in it, but can’t be sure – it would be interesting to find out where, and with whom, it all began, but one things for sure, it has taken off big style. The Writing Community on Twitter has been an extremely supportive online arena, especially in the light of the political shenanigans and depressing news stories that abound, and the Tweets that are reportedly ‘vile’. Many people have said they hate Twitter because it’s a cesspool of hate and vitriol, back-biting and denigration. Not in the #WritingCommunity.

So what’s an Indie Author?

Being an indie author is primarily an approach to writing and publishing, a matter of self-definition. If you see yourself as the creative director of your books, from concept to completion and beyond, then you’re indie. You don’t approach publishers with a longing for validation: “publish me please”.

https://selfpublishingadvice.org/what-is-an-indie-author/

Being an #indieauthor does not mean you are working and publishing alone, without an agent or publishing house. You might do this and self-publish and go with a small press and, or, start your own independent publishing company. There’s a lot of flexibility in being an indie author.

So why is #indieauthor and #indieapril a good thing?

Well, when someone sets out on the creative path there is no-one to tell you what to do. You create whatever you want, whenever you want, in whatever style suits you. Sounds great doesn’t it? But it can feel isolated for some, lack constructive feedback, lack praise for successes. (*Writers, you can see my ‘How To Embrace Twitter As An Aid’ blog here.) Writers work alone (mostly). We spend days, months; sometimes years, crafting a single manuscript; MS. Emotions are poured onto the page, imaginations fired up, a world envisioned and told for others to read. But for those who are not brimming with self- confidence, or who do not have contacts, or have never had the good fortune – and luck does play a huge part in whether or not you get taken on by an agent and published by a known press – to be taken on by a publishing house, where does one go?

You might decide to use something like Amazon CreateSpace, or set up a website with an author page to sell your books. But there are over 200,000 books published annually in the UK alone. How do you get your little self-published or indie title noticed in the avalanche of words? It’s an extremely difficult task – besides, who wants to spend fifty percent of their time doing the business side of things when they could be writing another book?!

The Twitter community of writers is doing it’s damnedest to support each other in many marvellous ways. And #indieapril is the latest, and hopefully will be an annual ‘event’. It allows all the shy and retiring types to put their work out there. It allows the socially awkward to promote themselves, it allows people who have been rejected by agents another chance to be heard, it allows any age, race, gender/genderless, class, creed; whatever, to say – I am a writer and I have this book that I am proud to share..

So whether you’re a writer or not, pay a visit to the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, say ‘Hi’; they’re a friendly bunch. Find the #indieauthor or #indieapril, and discover new up and coming authors, buy a book – hell, buy half a dozen if it’s for you e-reader – and help support creatives who normally don’t do much shouting or arm waving – I might be gobby, but an awful lot of writers are timid creatures, please be aware.

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Book Review: The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

Genre: Fantasy Noir
Pub First Date: 4th April 2019
Publisher:Kyanite Publishing
Length: 350 pages
Paperback: ARC copy from author for review purposes

Titan City, 1933

The wizard Anson Walker’s cynical retirement is thrown into chaos when the daughter of his ex-wife hires him to rescue her mother. Her kidnapping is only days before the Aberration, a cosmic event every century when the rules of magic don’t apply. As Anson dives into the criminal underworld of Titan City, he uncovers an ancient conspiracy, the return of a decades-old nemesis, and dredges up feelings he thought long gone. Will he rescue his old flame, or succumb to the sinister forces arrayed against him?

Some readers may not have heard of the Fantasy Noir genre before. It is one of those sub-sub-genres that is becoming popular; like Diesel, Stitch and Elf have emerged from the genre of Steampunk. From Fantasy has emerged Alternative, Dying Earth and Futuristic. Also Dark, or Noir, and if you are familiar with the term from cinema, then you will have an idea where Alexander Thomas is coming from.

The Magician’s Sin has, as it’s lead, Anson Walker; ‘Exterminator’, who shares more than a few characteristics of the hard-boiled PI about him – though he does, in one scene, make protestations to the contrary. He’s mature (don’t know how old), intelligent to a degree, cynical and has a smart mouth. He swears and spits and smokes, I like him. I have a weakness for Marlowesque characters with snappy lines and a quick delivery – Anson Walker has a few snappy lines, I would have liked more.

He is ’employed’ – I use the term loosly as she doesn’t pay him, by Caroline Dupree, a young woman not only growing and finding herself, but along the way finds what or who she is and what she is capable of. She develops very nicely as a character, though some of her early growth happens a wee bit too quickly for my liking; she seems to accept the remarkable with remarkable ease.

I really enjoyed the opening scenes, where we are introduced to Walker – and his skills as a wizard. I became quite attached to the Dupree family in their little domestic, after work setting. There are some pretty neat descriptions of characters and places – of the MC: ‘Anson was lanky like a shadow at sunset.’ Of a group of Russian gangster types: ‘Their grim, flat faces were slate tiles.’

I found some of the dialogue stilted, in that it did not flow in a manner conducive to helping move the scene forwards, or it felt unnatural, or innappropriate for the scene. I can’t, for example, imagine discussing much at all whilst in the middle of a three-way fight with an Amazon.

Yes, I did say Amazon, as in mighty female warriors. This was another sticking point for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy, I love noir, I love horror, and superheroes, and mythology – you see where I’m going with this? Thomas has included all, and more, of these beings into one story, and for me, the scene outside the nightclub lost all psychological realism – simply too many varieties of beast; vampires, werewolves, Japanese demons, medusa-like women and ogres. This nightclub also has the strange ability, I don’t understand how, it’s not explained, to have people from different eras in the one place – from Roman Legionnaires to Mark Twain. Again, my suspension of disbelief was suspended a little too high.

I think Thomas has come up with an interesting idea, with a great main character and supporting cast – one called Chevron grew on me, and Thomas piqued my curiosity with this guy. The Aberration is a great concept about when the magical energies will be weaker, or at least in flux and it has an exciting finale.

It’s a crazy mix of 1930s detective noir, comic novel, superheroes and mythology, that I’m not 100% convinced Thomas has pulled off. I feel he could have had one story thread, a single arc and one or two fantastical beasts, and it would have been just as good. Sometimes it feels as though the author got over-excited and wanted to fit in as much as possible, and in parts, smacks a little of a D and D game – the amazing devices, shining orbs and jewels, and very powerful magic. I don’t believe I am the target audience for this novel – though I do like all the elements, it’s too ‘noisy’ for my tastes, but if you like your fantasy stuffed with humanoids, feisty women and a snarky lead, then this will be just your thing.

But despite my reservations…

I am curious to know what happens with the two characters in the end scene…will they be back for a second outing? We’ll have to wait and see!

The Magician’s Sin is Coming to E-book, Paperback, and Hardcover 04/04/2019, courtesy of Kyanite Publishing.

I’m giving The Magician’s Sin

3 Stars