Archive for February, 2018|Monthly archive page

Monthly Round-up: February 2018

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

On 1 February, I went in for surgery.

Since then I’ve been at home recovering, so February is pretty much a write-off. However, it’s been very cold while I’ve been off, so it’s not been a bad time to be stuck indoors. And by the time I go back to work, which I hope will be next week (pending doctor approval) it will be daylight when I leave the house.

That said, there are a few things to report this month.

OUT NOW/COMING SOON

I’m pleased to announce that my story ‘Morgan’s Father’ is included in the Women in Horror edition of the SIREN’S CALL e-zine. This issue is completely free to download as a PDF and is chock full of horror stories by women, so download your copy now.

In other news, we don’t yet have a release date for OUTPOST H311, but the onus is on me at the moment since I’ve had the edits back and I’m working through them. And it’s taking rather longer than I was expecting. Partly that’s due to being on sick leave. For the first two weeks following surgery I couldn’t really do much except lie about reading or watching TV. No concentration for anything else. However, this week I’ve been making progress with the edits, so hopefully there’ll be more news on this next month.

PUBLICITY

I contributed to Mark West’s Stephen King mixtape, which appeared on his blog on 26 February. This was a post including a long list of writers talking briefly about their favourite King story. I chose ‘The Breathing Method’.

WORK IN PROGRESS

I haven’t worked on any WIPs for a while, what with surgery getting in the way and all. So the current status is unchanged. There are two current works in progress:

A WHITER SHADE OF PAIN: a crime thriller set in 1967 which is a collaboration with my husband. We plotted the book together, then I wrote Draft 1 and he started on Draft 2. The latter isn’t finished yet, but I’ve taken it back to make further changes to the amended chapters. So I suppose it’s currently on Draft 2.5.

DEADLY SUMMER is the fourth Shara Summers novel, which takes my intrepid sleuth to New York City when she gets a job in a US soap opera. I am about a third of the way through the first draft. I halted work on this when I started writing OUTPOST H311, and I haven’t got back to it yet.

That’s all to report this month. I anticipate that by the end of next month, spring will have sprung. But you can never tell, with British weather.

 

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Clutter

In the 1990s I used to enjoy watching a British TV show called ‘Through the Keyhole‘, where transatlantic TV presenter Loyd Grossman used to snoop about in the house of a mystery celebrity. A panel in the studio watched the video and then would try to guess who lived in the house, before a studio audience to whom the owner’s identity had been revealed. I’ve not watched this show for years, but apparently it’s still on. Though since celebrities these days all seem to consist of football players, reality TV stars and soap stars, and none of these things I watch, I wouldn’t know who they were anyway.

Right now, though I find myself watching a lot of TV. I’m three weeks into a four-week recuperation stint following surgery, with strict instructions to take it easy and allow my body to heal, and there’s not much I’ve been able to do except shuffle between bed and sofa, reading and watching TV. And the shows* that I’m getting strangely addicted to are ‘Homes Under the Hammer‘ (where the presenters view properties under auction and then follow up with who bought them to discover what work they have done to them), ‘Wanted Down Under‘ where British families with a desire to live in Australia are taken there for a week to show exactly what sort of lifestyle they could afford, including viewing several properties, and- curiously for someone who doesn’t cook – ‘Come Dine With Me‘ where several strangers with nothing in common except the town they live in host dinner parties and then rate each other on their food and hosting skills, with the winner getting a cash reward.

I have worked out what all these shows have in common is that the viewer gets to nose about in other people’s houses. Maybe this is the writer in me, but I do like seeing how other people live. And what gets me every time about this is the remarkable lack of clutter.

Now, admittedly, people who know they will have TV crews in their homes probably make a special effort to tidy up. And most of the properties bought on ‘Homes Under The Hammer’ are bought by people with an idea to rent them out, so the decoration is neutral and spartan, but sometimes when the TV crew go back to revisith the property there is already a tenant living there, or the person who bought it has turned it into their own home and moved in. But even so, I am getting the impression that other people live with far less clutter in their lives than I do. I am a hoarder. I always have been. Much to the disgruntlement of my mother, who tried her best to make me tidy up after myself. But when I was young there was always something far more interesting to do than tidy my room, and it was usually reading a book or writing a story.

My husband is just as bad. When we bought our first place together, in 1991, it was a small one-bedroom apartment because that’s all we could afford at the time. We were both young, and neither of had much in way of possessions at that point, except we both had a lot of books and we filled one wall of the living room with shelves so we’ d have somewhere to put them. We also made a point of getting a place with an attic, and since then the stuff stored there has gone from attic to attic, somehow accumulating along the way.

Twenty-seven years later we are in a four-bedroom house and the amount of stuff we’ve managed to accumulate in that time is startling. In spite of us both using Kindles on a daily basis we still have more books than we know what to do with, and we have a huge collection of DVDs, CDs and vinyl (which, strangely, is becoming popular again). We have piles of games for both the PS3 and the PS4. We have a lot of PC games, some of which are so old they won’t run on modern PCs. We also have games for the PS2 and the Wii, and we haven’t used either machine in ages. My husband builds model kits and collects guitars. I have, over the years, collected dolls and stuff toys, and a vast array of Star Wars and Buffy merchandising. And notebooks. I love notebooks. Some of them are used, but I acquire them faster than I use them.

And before anyone says there are places that you can sell your old CDs, DVDs and books to, I freely admit that I don’t like getting rid of stuff. Apparently this also includes junk mail. There are piles of papers in the house containing a mix of junk and stuff we need to hold on to, but we rarely get around to going through it.

Watching TV, it’s easy to think that I am messier than most ‘normal’ people. But when I visit friends’ houses, I think this is probably not the case. Most of my friends are also into books and films, and they have similarly vast collections. But mostly they are a bit better than tidying up than me.

This is the way we live and I am happy with it. Occasionally I wonder, though, what’s going to happen when Hubby and I eventually shuffle off this mortal coil. We don’t have kids, and the only nieces and nephews we’ve got live in Canada, so I don’t know who’s going to get the considerable task of having to clear out our house when we’ve gone. But since I’ll be dead, I don’t suppose I’ll care.

So this is a question I’d like to put out there. Are you a tidy sort of person, or surrounded by clutter? Do you prefer your surroundings to be minimalist, or are you happy to be in a home full of stuff? I’d love to know if I’m in the minority or the majority in living in clutter.

*There may well be US versions of these shows, but I have included links with more information about the programmes for non-UK viewers just in case the titles mean nothing to you.

Best Books of 2017

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This post is a bit late coming, given that we’re already halfway through February.

Every year I set up a ‘Goodreads’ challenge to read so many books in a year. On average it takes me about a week to read one average-length novel. Most of this is down to my long commute – I spend the best part of 3 hours a day every working day on public transport, travelling to and from work, and I use most of that time to read. I am also quite a fast reader, especially if the book is exciting, and I find myself turning pages faster to find out what happens next.

In 2017 I set myself a goal of reading 68. Happily I exceeded that goal and a read a total of 70 books last year. Six of those books I gave a five-star rating to, and this my criteria for the ‘best books of the year’ list.

In no particular order, they are:

Pet Sematary: Stephen King
Heart-Shaped Box: Joe Hill
Behind Her Eyes: Sarah Pinborough
X: Sue Grafton
Bones Never Lie: Kathy Reichs
Soul Music: Terry Pratchett

No real surprises here – these are all authors whose books I enjoy, and three of my four all-time favourite authors – Stephen King, Sue Grafton and Kathy Reichs – are in this list. The only one who isn’t is Sara Paretsky, and that was only because I did not read her 2017 release (though I bought it, at Bouchercon in Toronto) last year.

More details about these books and why I enjoyed them can be found below.

Pet Sematary:
The first time I read this book was over 25 years ago. I had to re-read it last year for my horror book club, and I had forgotten just how good it is. This is an almost-perfect horror story that contains all of the characteristics of King that made him my inspiration.

Louis Creed, doctor and Ordinary Guy moves his family to rural Maine when he takes up a job as resident physician on a university campus. The road outside the house claims the lives of many pets, so many that a pet cemetery has been set up by local children. But there’s something much darker lying beyond the cemetery, and Louis’ descent into madness is creepy and downright disturbing.

Heart-Shaped Box:
I got to meet Joe Hill at Fantasycon in Scarborough a couple of years ago, and end up buying a few books of his which he signed. This was one of them. It involves a fading, self-absorbed rock star with a fascination for collecting macabre items who ends up buying from the internet a suit that allegedly has a ghost attached to it. The suit turns up in a heart-shaped box and the promised ghost does indeed come with the suit, but as always the story is far more complex and it soon takes a sinister turn.

Though not in the same league as his famous father, Stephen King, Joe Hill is still an accomplished horror writer in his own right, and this is a creepy and rather disturbing tale.

Behind Her Eyes:
I know Sarah Pinborough personally through both the crime and horror convention circuits, and I am always impressed with both her versatility and her writing style. The author of 20-plus published novels, this is the one that seems to have moved her up into the big leagues, and well deserved that move is to.

‘Behind Her Eyes’ starts out as effectively a love triange between David, Adele and Louise. David is a doctor, Adele his apparently fragile wife, and single mother Louise his secretary. But she meets him in a bar and shares a kiss with him before she starts her new job and realise that he’s her boss. Meanwhile Adele offers a hand of friendship to Louise and she finds herself getting closer to Adele, whilst feeling guilty about carrying on a relationship with David. Alternating between Adele and Louise’s point of view, it soon becomes apparent that this is not a typical psychological thriller, and it has an ending that will blow you away.

X:
I was not to know, at the time I read this book, that it would be Sue Grafton’s penultimate novel and she would tragically leave us before getting to the end of her ‘alphabet’ books. I have been with Grafton’s couragious female PI since ‘A is for Alibi’. Kinsey Millhone isn’t married and doesn’t seem to be able to commit to relationships, has no kids and no desire to have any, doesn’t cook and doesn’t play particularly well with others. I think she’s wonderful. In ‘X’ Kinsey ends up crossing paths with a particularly vicious villain, and the encounter will have long-term repercussions for her.

I am aware that Grafton’s writing style, and her character, has influenced my own crime series. Sue Grafton is the only one of my favourite crime writers I never got to meet, and I wish I could have.

Bones Never Lie:
Kathy Reichs is another one of my favourite crime writer, and one I’ve had the privilege to meet. Forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan shuttles between Montreal and North Caroline, uncovering murders in her examination of bones, and with a long-standing on-again off-again relationship with Montreal cop Andrew Ryan. She also has a daughter, Katy, whose chronological age marks the passage of time in the series, though by now Katy is grown up and off doing her own thing.

This one was very typical of Kathy Reichs’ style. But I freely admit I love the formula, and I found this one a proper page-turner.

Soul Music:
I’ve been re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for a while, and I expect it to take me quite some time yet, since there are over 40 books in the series and this is #16. And eventually I will get to books I haven’t read before, since I didn’t get through them all the first time around.

My favourite books are the ones about the witches, but Death comes a close second and this one features the latter. In this chronicle of the fantasy world, the inhabitants discover Rock Music, and the spirit of teenage rebellion it inspires. Pratchett’s books are always entertaining, and are always a good thing to read when I need my spirits lifting.

So there we have it for the best books of 2017. For 2018 I’ve decided to play it safe and set a goal to read 70 books. Nearly 7 weeks in I have read 7, which puts me a bit behind schedule. But I am sure I shall catch up!

And if anyone is on Goodreads and wants to link up there, this is my profile page.

Monthly Round-Up: January 2018

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I really hate January. It has no redeeming features. It’s dark, cold and wet, everyone is broke after Christmas, there is nothing to look forward to and as I never see daylight during the working week it’s the month my SAD seems to hit the hardest so I spend most of it feeling depressed.

Hence, I am always glad to see the back of it. Happily, we are now out of January and there are a few things to look forward to in the coming months as there is news to report.

COMING SOON:

I am pleased to announce that my previously-published story “Morgan’s Father” (most recently available in the collection SOUL SCREAMS) is to be published in the forthcoming ‘Women in Horror’ edition of the ezine SIREN’S CALL.

My new horror novel OUTPOST H311 is currently with the editor, and will be released later this year from KGHH publishing. I will let you know when I have more news regarding release date.

PUBLICITY:

I’ve been a bit quiet on this front of late, and there’s nothing to report at the moment, but there are a couple of things I’ve been working on and I hope to have something to report soon.

WORK IN PROGRESS:

With the horror novel finished I’ve been trying to figure out what to work on next. I’m back at work on the collaboration with Hubby, which has been a somewhat long-running project. It’s a crime thriller set in 1967, about a young woman with a dream to play bass in a band, who gets caught up in the heady world of London gangs and the rising music scene when she searches for a friend who’s disappeared.

The fourth Shara Summers novel is about a third of the way through draft 1, but I have not done any work on it for 12 months. I am still in two minds as to whether to carry on with this series. I enjoy writing it, but it’s not selling, and is there any point in carrying on with a series people don’t want to read?

As we move into February and the days start to get lighter, things start to look brighter. Join me again at the end of this month to see what it had in store!