The Stories So Far 2015: January and February

On twitter you may have noticed that I have been posting short book reviews under the hashtag #booksreadin2015. To coincide with that, welcome to The Stories So Far. This is a two-monthly round up of all the books I’m reading this year and it’s where I will be placing more detailed reviews of each of those books. So without any further ado, let’s get down to business:

nb. These aren’t meant to be in-depth critiques or anything, just my general musings on what I’ve been reading. Hopefully you might be inspired to try some of these books yourself, if you haven’t already. 

JANUARY

Revival – Stephen King

revival As we all know, when it comes to horror writing, there aren’t many in the business who can top Mr King for chills and thrills. After taking a break from horror to bring out his detective novel, Mr Mercedes (which is also brilliant, check it out), King has returned in fine form to bring about a fable like tale of a friendship takes some very dark twists and turns. It starts with a young boy who befriends his local pastor and family. As time progresses, tragedy strikes the pastor and he and the boy grow apart. In later years they meet again when the boy, now a drug addicted musician, meet again. What follows is an unsettling and unnerving look at what death and the afterlife hold for us.

This book is King at his best; taking everyday folk and their everyday lives and weaving them into something genuinely menacing, scary and (with the last few chapters of this book) shocking. The way King builds up to the events of the climax means that your constantly  guessing what’s going on and what’s about to happen. By the time I made it to the end I was left shaken to my core. As any horror novel should do, Revival left me with a few sleepless nights but boy was it worth it. This book is emotional, nerve-racking, terrifying and beautifully written. I highly recommend it.

The Copper Promise – Jen Williams

the-copper-promise The best way I can think to describe this book is to paraphrase the tagline for the film Stardust; It’s a fantasy novel that won’t behave.

What I mean is that this book takes some of the classic tropes of the fantasy genre and completely turns them on their head. And thank goodness it does. The big draw to this tale of Dragons, fledgling mages and tomb raiders is the three main characters: Wydrin, a wise cracking mercenary who is always looking out for her next big score; Sebastian, a disgraced knight of an ancient order and Lord Frith, a disposed ruler who is looking to take back his reign and will stop at nothing to get revenge on those who took it from him.  The chemistry between the three is brilliant, cracking dialogue and some fun interaction, along with some surprising actions by some of the characters, this is most fun you’ll have with a fantasy novel for a very long time. Can’t wait to read the follow up, The Iron Ghost. Oh and if Wydrin doesn’t immediately become your new favourite female fantasy character, you haven’t read it properly.

Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart_cover A superhero novel with a difference. Instead of following someone learning to use their superpowers to fight evil and save the world, Steelheart takes us to a future where those with Superpowers are known as epics and they have used their powers to enslave humanity. The book follows a young resistant fighter who holds the key to bringing down one of the most powerful epics, Steelheart.

What’s great about this book, apart from the unique take on a well trodden genre, is its relentless pace. Nearly every chapter is filled with action but in such a way that it propels the narrative and builds the world and the characters. There is nothing that is surplus to the telling of the story and the exposition is scattered throughout, giving us clues to what Steelheart’s weakness as the story unfolds. If you’re looking for something a bit different that’s exciting but not shallow, Steelheart is the book for you.

The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

name-of-the-windd1  Another fantasy novel and another original take on the genre. You see, what makes The Name of the Wind unique is its structure. Instead of one straightforward fantasy you get two fantasy stories!

Allow me to explain. It all kicks off with an Innkeeper with a mysterious past. At first he seems perfectly normal but as his village is attacked by giant spiderlike creatures he is revealed to be a living legend and the giant spiders maybe just be after him. Once this is revealed he starts to tell his life story from his days growing up with a troupe of travelling entertainers to his teenage years as a student of magic at the university. The two narratives tie into each both throwing up and answering various mysteries. And, while it is a great story and by the end of it you’re really eager to jump into its sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, I did find myself struggling with this book slightly.

You see. It has one of the finest openings of a book I’ve ever read; the tension built is palpable and really raises the hairs on the back of the neck. After that when we get into the Innkeepers story, it rolls nicely through his childhood and the tragedy he has to endure and you really feel for him during his time as a homeless street urchin. When he arrives at the university things slow down a bit and sometimes get a bit repetitive. I found myself getting slightly bored with descriptions of the admissions process and the MC worrying about how he would pay his tuition, but once he sets out on a quest to find out what happened at a wedding that seemingly left no survivors, the story picks up pace again and I was once again enthralled in this world and the story unfolding.

Mayhem & Murder – Sarah Pinborough

These are two seperate books but I read them one after the other and I really feel that that is the best way to read them, to get the full chilling effect but here I do look at them separately.

Mayhem

Mayhem_JK1.jpg.size-2301 Mayhem is set during the time of the Jack the Ripper murders and tells the story of a Dr working with the police to uncover the culprit behind another horrific set of murders that are happening at the same time. What Sarah Pinborough has so brilliantly done with this book is to combine a classical murder mystery, that could’ve come from Sherlock Holmes casebook and blended it with a supernatural horror story, so well that you can’t see the joins at all. By the time the killer is revealed you’re nerves are shot and then as the story heads towards our heroes confrontation with said killer, the thrills and terrors come at a relentless pace.

The books other huge draw is the characters. There isn’t any cut and dry, black and white good guys and bad guys in this one. The good Dr’s motives towards the end are sometimes questionable and through the killer’s diary entries we find ourselves sympathising with him somewhat and not sure if he got the fate he deserved. This is something that is expanded one and played with even more in its sequel:

Murder

61XBZxFWBCL Murder picks up some years after the first novel and once again follows the Dr from Mayhem. This time we join him after he is recovering from the events of the first book but soon fate finds him on the other side of the coin, will he be able to free himself and retain his sanity.

Murder is less of a mystery novel than Mayhem. Here the protagonist isn’t on the hunt for a killer. This time he is trying to bury his past and move on with his life but when the demon comes for him, there is no escape. This time around we get a flat out horror story. And man, what a horror story it is. As well as vividly drawing us into the Dr’s descent into madness, Murder deftly intertwines the themes of grief, fear and love. By making the hero of the tale do some truly questionable things you soon wonder if there is any goodness in the world at all. And the more the Dr succumbs to his ‘sometimes literal’ demons, the scarier things become until we come to a truly nail biting, nerve shredding climax. I defy anyone not to look wearily at the next river they come across and to also be cautious next time they look in a mirror. But most of all, I defy anyone not to read these two books and be utterly captivated. I strongly recommend reading them one after the other as it makes for one the best horror stories you’ll ever read.

Thanks for reading.

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The Write Side of Life: What’s in A Name?

So, when writing fiction, your characters are going to need names right? Of course they are, not only does it give you the single most essential piece info on who they are but they are also pretty damn useful for distinguishing who is doing what in your story.

With that mind and also thinking about the fact that you, dear reader and I both have names,  and that we call other people by their names; you would think it would be pretty damn easy to come up with some decent names for my characters, right?

WRONG!!!

You see, the big thing for me when thinking trying to come up with a character name (and I’m sure this is true for other authors out there) is that the name I craft have some meaning behind it. Sure, I could just buy the ‘ Penguin’s Big Book of Futuristic/ Fantastical Baby Names’ (BTW I’m pretty sure that ain’t a real book and I just made it up. Any prospective parents out there, don’t go trawling Amazon for it. Just pick ’em from Game of Thrones instead!) but then I would just be assigning my characters arbitrary names. Sure they may read well and roll off the tongue but, for me at least, a character name should be so much than that.

If done well a good character name can give so much more information about who that character is. You can use regional names to give a clue as to where your character is from, or their lineage; You can use historical names to again give the character some lineage but also as a clue to what type of person they are; Certain names carry very obvious meanings to them which you can use to speak volumes about your character. If you are writing particular kinds of Sci-fi and Fantasy you can go off the rails and make-up crazy sounding names that can, if done well, add to the world building of that story.

And this is where I tend to struggle. Einstein once defined stupidity as the act of repeating the same action over and over again but expecting different results each time. And that is what coming up with names can sometimes be like for me. As I predominately write Sci-fi and Fantasy stories, I do have the luxury of being able to make up completely new names but this is also where the problems arise. I, like Einstein’s stupid person,  come up with a name, think it’s great, write it down and immediately think ‘Man, that sucks’: Then lather, rinse, repeat until I’m ready to throw my computer out of the window.

Now, if your still reading, you may be wondering how I get any writing done. Well I do actually come up with names, eventually. Here’s how I do it:

Research

If I’m wanting to use an existing name, the first thing I do is Google it. I check out where the name originally came from and what meanings it has attached to it. This way I can make sure that it fits to how I want to portray that character and not contradict with who they are. It’s also a useful thing to do if you are using regional names. For example, you don’t want to assign a name to your Chinese character only to find out it’s a Japanese name.

Say It Loud

This may sound crazy but it’s true. I do this both with existing names and names that I’m making up. If the name sounds right when spoken, if it just rolls off the tongue, then the chances are it will look good written down too. Also, if the name sounds good it will be memorable, and everyone wants their characters to be memorable, don’t they?

Alliteration

Again, it may sound crazy but it is true. Try playing around with some alliteration when naming your characters. It can be a fun exercise and you might end up with something that stands out. Think of some the great characters Marvel have come up with who have alliterative names; Reed Richards, Victor Von Doom, Pepper Potts, Jessica Jones, Stephen Strange. I could go on but I won’t.

So there you have it, that’s why names are important to me and also how I come up with them.  The reason I have written this is because I’m currently banging my head against a wall trying to come up with a main character name for my current project. It may sound like a bit of a first world problem, and it probably is but hey we all need to vent.

If you’re having similar troubles, or have name suggestions that I can steal you think might inspire me, let me know in the comments below or through the usual social media gubbins.

Thanks for reading.

The Write Side of Life: The Whys, Whats, Wheres and Whens

Having checked out my site stats for this blog recently, it occurs to me that I might get a bigger readership if I actually post regularly.  So, in light of this rather obvious epiphany, I’m bringing back my ‘Write Side Of Life’ title. I set this up with a view to regularly talking about my writing process and maybe giving out some hints and tips along the way. Im going to attempt to do a post under this  title every week. It might not be the most amazing thing ever published to the net but hopefully you’ll find something interesting along the way.

To kick things off, I thought I’d talk about a few questions that everyone who writes will get asked at sometime in their life, be they a rank amateur such as myself or a bestselling novelist, adored the world over; why, where, when and what do you write?

Let’s tackle these in reverse order shall we? That means ‘When do I write? The simple answer is whenever I can. Not being a full time writer who does this as a day job, means that I have to fit my writing around my actual paying the bills job and my responsibilities at home. I write whenever I have some spare time; be that when at home with nothing to do, if I get to work early, lunch breaks and like this post is being written, on the train going to and from work. Which leads quite nicely into:

Where do I write? Basically, wherever I can. My laptop at home, my work computer and even my mobile phone, which is where this post is currently being composed (that’s my excuse if there any grammatical or spelling errors *winks*). I still go to good old pen and paper which I always carry with me so really, I guess the real to where do I write is everywhere.

So, now we know when and where I write, you’re probably now wondering What do I write?
As you’ve possibly already gathered, if you’re a regular here or follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I mainly (attempt) to write Sci-fi and Fantasy stories. They are, for want of a better phrase, my bread and butter; my go to genres. And it isn’t just in my writing. They’re the main genre of the books I read, the films I watch and the t-shirts I wear. I do, however, try to not confine myself to these genres, as maybe obvious from the short stories already posted on this blog. I think for creativity’s sake that it is always good to step outside your comfort zone. For example, the writing competition I am currently working on an an entry for, is for crime thrillers. I ve never written one of these before so am relishing the challenge, although my entry does have an SF element to it but I believe its always good to bend genres if you can.

This brings us to probably the hardest of these questions to answer and that’s why I saved it until last: Why do I write? There’s probably about a million answers that I could give to this; over active imagination, boredom, dream job of being a full time author but really the simple, most straightforward and honest answer I can give is because I have to. It’s hard to explain but in my head ( and I guess this also ties into having an over active imagination) I feel like there is all these stories, or ideas for stories, all boiling away, bustling and fighting each other for space and sometimes it feels like if I don’t get these stories out they might actually drive me insane! I know, rhat probably sounds crazy too but I can’t really think of a better way to describe it. I’m sure other writers and creatives probably feel something similar but they could most likely express it more eloquently than I (I’m good with fiction but talking about myself is a mess).

So there you have it, the why, whats, whens and wheres of my writing life. It might not be the most insightful thing you read today but hopefully it was a little bit interesting and that you now know me a little better.

Until next time, thanks for reading.

Special Delivery: Another Short Story from Ages Ago.

So I mentioned yesterday about the short stories I had dug out from a competition I had participated in a few years ago. Yesterday was one based on a suggested title, today’s one had to feature three suggested objects: a snowflake, a digital camera and an envelope. It’s since become part of a bigger story which I may or may not post here someday. Anyway, this is what I came up with:

Special Delivery

He just sat there; eyes closed, embracing the darkness and the silence. He slowly opened his eyes and checked his watch, two thirty am, and still nothing. His joints were aching and his back had stiffened up hours ago. The file of papers on his lap felt like a dead weight, his legs going numb underneath. He sighed, rotated his neck to try and loosen up, looked back down at the file and opened it up.

He had taken the photo three days previously. She was beautiful, a petite redhead with curves in all the right places. She had the kind of smile that instantly made you feel good, the genuine kind that comes from somewhere deep inside. A genuine smile that showed that here was somebody who really cared.

“What could’ve she have ever done to deserve this” He asked himself out loud. “What on earth, could a woman like that ever do to deserve someone like me, coming into her life?” 

He sighed again and picked up the digital camera from the passenger seat. The light from the LCD was harsh and intrusive in the dark cabin of his old car; it took a moment for his eyes to adjust. He scrolled through the other photo’s he had taken of her. He was intoxicated by her. The way she walked, the way she sat, even the way that she searched the corner of her lip for stray crumbs with the tip of her tongue when she ate a sandwich. He cursed out loud and threw the camera back on the seat.
Why him? Why this way? Sure he had done this kind of job, thousands of times to thousands of different people, but it was different this time. The rest of them, they had deserved it. They were the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth. Junkies, gangbangers or pimps, people nobody would miss.

This was different though. She wasn’t any of those things. She was just a nurse. She was in the business of helping people, not hurting them. But she had made one little mistake and now it was going to cost her everything.

Then there was the message. His employer was insistent that the first thing he did, when he met her, was give her that message. It was a really nasty one too. One that would make sure she knew why he was there and who had sent him. It wasn’t necessary, it was just there to hurt and it was going to hurt a lot. He was going to do it though. He had to; it was just too much money to pass up, wasn’t it? At that moment he was shook from his reverie by the sound of an approaching car. It was her. It was time.

As she got out of her car, he reached into the glove box and took out the package containing the message. He also took the revolver that was lying underneath it. He got out of the car and hurried across the street, reaching her just as she unlocked the door. He tapped her on the shoulder and said her name out loud for the first time.

“Alison” The word sounded cold and strange on his lips, it seemed to him like she turned round in slow motion. She looked up at him with a vague look of recognition in her eyes.
“This is for you” he said coldly and handed her the package.
Her hands shook as she took it from him. She already knows what it is he thought to himself and he had to stifle his heavy breath from becoming a gasp.

She opened the end of the package and shook the contents out into her other hand. As the small snowflake decoration fell into her palm she let out a gasp of her own, but it was a gasp of terror, not anticipation.
She slowly moved her head up to look at him again, as her eyes met his all she could see were his cold empty pupils staring back. And that’s when she started screaming.

There you go. As ever, let me know what you think through the usual channels. Thanks for reading.

Til next time…

A quick bit of (old) silliness. The Very Fussy Cannibal.

I’ve been going through some old pen drives and have found a couple of short stories that I wrote a few years ago. They are both from a competition on a forum that I used to frequent. The rules were simple, you were given three items or a title and a  you had to come up with a story to fit. Anyway this first of these stories I found is below. The title for the round of the contest this came from was The Very Fussy Cannibal. This is what I came up with:

“Please sweetie just eat a little bit?”
“Nuh huh, I don’t like it!”
“How do you know you don’t like it until you try it?”
This kind of coaxing had been going on for over an hour and Max was coming to the end of his tether. Katie’s mom was due home from a fortnight business trip in an hour. Max wanted her dinner finished and the precocious ten year old in bed before Emily got back, so he could spend a little ‘quality’ time with her, before he went on his business trip.
“I don’t even know what it is” whined Katie
“It’s just roast beef, you’ve had it before” Max’s patience was wearing thin.
“Well it doesn’t look like roast beef”
“It’s just a different recipe Hun, it’s, Mexican style” Max grinned, but Katie still didn’t look convinced.
“Well why didn’t Rosa cook it?” Rosa had been the family’s house maid until a few days ago. When Katie asked where she had gone, her dad had just mumbled something about a last minute holiday. Katie wasn’t happy about it at all, as Rosa had been like a second mother to her. A fact that Max hated.
“Look I told you” Max replied, trying his best not to shout “Rosa’s gone and she ain’t coming bac-” Shit he’d said too much. He hoped that Katie hadn’t caught what he said but he knew she had. She was what her teachers called “a gifted child”, which Max took to mean “too smart for her own good”. He looked down at the expression of horror on her face.
“YOU FIRED ROSA!” she yelled.
“No sweetie I didn’t, well not exactly” he garbled out.
“Not exactly? Then what did you do?” As she spat out that last question she looked down at the roast beef, because that was where Max was no looking with a pale, guilt ridden look on his face.
It hit her all at once, Rosa’s sudden disappearance, the strange looking beef that Max told her was a Mexican recipe; wasn’t Rosa from somewhere like that? She felt sick to her stomach as her eyes rose to meet his.
“Daddy” she muttered very nervously and very slowly “d-did you,” She couldn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth “k-k-kill Rosa and then COOK her?” She couldn’t hide the horror in her voice anymore.
Damn thought Max I always knew she was too smart for her own good.
“No baby of course not why would you think that?” As he went towards Katie, she started squirming back in her chair. “GET AWAY FROM ME!!!” She yelled moving further back, the chair started rocking backwards as well. All of a sudden the legs slipped from underneath the chair on the smooth hardwood floor. The chair slammed to the ground, smacking Katie’s head against it, she screamed and went silent. A dark crimson pool slowly emanated from the back of her skull.
“Oh Fuck!” Was all Max could manage to say, before he could react any further he heard the front door open and close, then footsteps moving up the corridor. “Hello,” Called out Emily “Anyone home?”
Max’s head appeared from around the kitchen door. “Hey Sugar, me and Katie are just finishing up in here and then I’ll put her to bed. Why don’t you go upstairs, take a shower and get into bed yourself? I’ll bring you something to eat”
“Oh that sounds good, I’m exhausted”.

Emily took a long shower and climbed into bed with her favourite book. She read until she was almost asleep. At that point Max came in with a full tray for her. “Here you go a tasty chicken sandwich” 

“Hey what took you Mister?” Emily asked hungrily as she took the sandwich from the tray and tore a huge bite from it.
“Oh you know how Katie can be when she’s over tired, it took a while to get her to go to sleep” Explained Max, relieved that Emily had no idea what had transgressed in the kitchen.
“Umm” Mumbled Emily through her first mouthful of sandwich. “Are you sure this is chicken?”
“Of course baby” Max replied “It’s just a new recipe”.

So there you go, just a silly, little something. Hope you liked it. Let me know what think in the comments below or via Facebook or Twitter.

 

Til next time…