Saturday 19 November 2016

ZERO by Matt Brolly

I don't read a lot of crime fiction, but the mild dystopian/sci-fi slant of ZERO grabbed my attention. And the cover... I just love the texture on that yellow text.

ZERO is set in the near future where authorities have adopted a zero tolerance policy towards crime. If found guilty, regardless of the crime, there is only one sentence: execution. And without giving any spoilers, it's the manner and delivery of execution that has more than shock value - it really resonates throughout the book. There are no flying cars, no robots or spaceships, but ZERO holds an unsettling atmosphere reminiscent of Bladerunner.

The story kicks off with the kidnap of a judge, which at first doesn't seem particularly surprising. The events and investigations that follow build up slowly, leading to a fairly complex, but convincing plot. Underpinning this is the conflicting turmoil within the main character as she digs deeper.

Again, no spoilers, but the result is a novel that avoids the quick fire twists and turns and cliches of pulp crime and instead, delivers a dark picture of social control and authoritarian hypocrisy.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Nano Day 6

Grinding to a halt... and here's why. In a nutshell, This isn't writing: this is typing.

There is a difference. At least, to me there is. In YA novels, every word counts. The moment you waffle, you lose the reader. You have a bit more leeway in adult fiction because adult readers have more patience and are more likely to stick along for the ride. But there has to be a promise to the reader, a hint that there is an end game, that we're on a journey. You can do it with a question or a hint, but there has to be something.

Here's the opening line from The Shining:

On the second day of December, in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado's great resort hotels burned to the ground.  

It sets a moment in time, a voice and lets us know where the book is going - a disaster, a great resort hotel is destroyed. The book is going to tell you why.

With my Nano project, I've got a good opening and three strong scenes, but I don't have an endgame in sight. There's no promise to the reader, no hint at the big picture. There's nothing wrong with the actual writing, but that feeling of not knowing where I'm going is very likely going to transfer to the reader, and frustration is the last emotion you want any reader to experience.

It's like I've set sail on a big wide ocean without a compass and a broken rudder. And there's a hole in the bottom of the boat. And a big bastard of a shark following me.

I think it's important to know what kind of writer you are, so in that respect, six short days of Nano has helped me out. I'm a plotter. I like to plan. So that's what I'm going to do.

That doesn't mean I'm giving up. It means I'm going to sit down and work out what I can do with this novel, what the goal is. If I can, I'll keep going. If not, I'll plan something else and see if I can catch up.

There's still 24 days left, so plenty of time. :)

Thursday 3 November 2016

Nano Day 3

I've just passed the 5,000 word mark! Yesterday was a bit difficult because I got in late, had to build a fireplace to give the room a bit of atmosphere for the first of our Christmas Movie nights, and then watched Elf, so the only writing I got done was what I managed to cram into my lunch hour, which meant today I was playing catch up.

Didn't get the opportunity to do any lunchtime writing today, but I go to watch the kids diving on a Thursday so I took my laptop along and knocked out 1,000 words there. Came home and managed another 1,000 (the last 500 words flew out.)

So, over the first three days, I've got an average of 1,800 per day. No idea where this novel is going but really want to keep pushing and see what happens. And to be quite honest, if it wasn't for the need to keep up with NaNoWriMo, I certainly wouldn't have done that last 1,000 words. In fact, today would probably have ended up as a non-writing day.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Nano Day 1

Finding time to write is the key, and it really isn't that hard. By some smashing stroke of luck, my dog woke me up at 5:00am this morning, quickly followed by the cat. Unable to get back to sleep I started thinking of my Nano project and the scenes began to flow.

At 7, it was time to give up on any further chance of sleep and get out of bed. Quick packed lunch for my youngest, a bacon and egg sarnie for me, check Facebook (quickly, because I really wanted to write a few notes) and then managed about fifteen minutes writing. Doesn't sound like a lot but it was enough to get about 150 words down.

It's a start.

I work during the week, so I couldn't do anything more until my lunch break. I nuked leftover pasta in a the staff room microwave, found an empty class and began tapping away. I knocked out around 1000 very messy words.

This evening, I managed a bit more time behind the keyboard. This was easy enough - really just time I usually spend scrolling through Facebook and watching videos of cats falling off tables and such. Went over the stuff I'd written earlier and watched a documentary on Victorian bakers, wrote a little more, watched a bit of an old movie, the news and QI. Then an early night and a few pages of current book (Midnight by Dean Koontz).

Total words today - 2168. Not bad considering I haven't really felt like I've had to tie myself to the laptop.

Monday 31 October 2016


NaNoWriMo - or, National Novel Writing Month is described as "A fun, seat of your pants approach to creative writing."

The idea is to knock out a novel as fast as possible to avoid getting bogged down in planning and plotting.

I've tried this technique a few times but never registered for Nano. Thought I'd give it a go this year as I'm just about to start writing what I hope is an adult thriller.

All I have at the moment is a title: Daniel's Daughter, and a one line synopsis. Nothing else.Going to start writing tomorrow. Let's see how far I get.I'll blog updates along the way.

Monday 17 October 2016

Teenage Cancer Trust

Had a great night on Saturday night at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. 18 different acts performed on two stages - the main O2 stage and the upstairs acoustic room None of the acts took a fee to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Most of the photos I took came out a bit poor so I knocked a few video clips together to give a hint of the general atmos. Fantastic. Can't wait till next year.

Friday 9 September 2016

The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

I'll make this short because I didn't get very far with this at all. The reason is simple - reading it was just too much hard work. I'm sure there are people out there who love quirky writing peppered with forgotten vocabulary to really add authenticity to the voice of a historical narrator, but I found it tough going. I tried to soldier on, and then hit the phonetic Yorkshire dialect - there was a little touch of this early on, but when the MC went up north it was used continually and the book died right there.

The problem I have with written dialects is that the written word is unfamiliar, so you have to slow down your reading in order to sound out the phonemes to decipher the word. As a reader, this shifts my focus from the story to the written word and the illusion of believable fiction is broken. So there's no point reading any further.

Friday 26 August 2016

The Fire Child by S.K. Tremayne

I loved The Ice Twins so as soon as I saw the author name, S.K. Tremayne, I had to get this.

In short, it looks like Rachel has landed herself a perfect family life, rising up from the underclass of London to the stunning grounds of Carnhallow House in Cornwall. She has a husband rich enough to keep and maintain the house, and she has fallen in love with Jamie, the perfect stepson. But Jamie is still grieving the loss of his mother, and Rachel's arrival at the house seems to have a significant effect on that grief. Jamie becomes convinced that his real mother is alive, is in the house... and that Rachel will be dead by Christmas.

Creepy and atmospheric with hints of the paranormal, The Fire Child is a brilliant psychological thriller. The setting is rich and convincing without being overly descriptive - there are lots of snippets of the horrors of mining, slipped in seamlessly into the story so that it never feels like clunky info dumps. All very nice and skillful, but for me, what S.K, Tremayne does particularly well is play the characters off against each, chipping away at their flaws and secrets, toying with the reader as who to trust. My only negative comment is that I would have liked a few more David chapters.

Overall, superb. Definitely an author I'll be following.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Review: Thin Air by Michelle Paver

Thin Air follows the story of five mountain climbers going for the summit of Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak in the Himalayas and considered at the time, the biggest killer of them all. Told from the point of view of a young medic, the group plan to follow the route that ended in disaster in 1907. The book opens with the medic receiving a stark warning from the last surviving member of that expedition.

Set in 1935 with a style deliberately dated, Thin Air has a feel that might appeal to fans of H.P. Lovecraft - in fact, it's very reminiscent of At The Mountains of Madness, (written in 1931!) not only in the setting and atmosphere but in the gradual and cumulative climb towards increasing fear.

Attention to detail is a major part of the book, from equipment to diet to medical treatments. It helps pace the story and make it feel like a genuine memoir of a 1930's trek. The story itself is gradual in development and the initial moments of unease are just a little too subtle, but these moments increase and gather momentum as the main character becomes lost in his own fears and culminate in a few final scenes which really deliver.

Thin Air is a steadily paced, slow-burn ghost story. Atmospheric, well researched and has some great moments of isolation, confusion and madness.

Thin Air is due out October 6th 2016, published by Orion. 
Buy on Amazon

Colin Mulhern

Sunday 14 August 2016

Behind the Curtain

Image result for behind the curtain wizard of oz

One thing I like to read on author blogs is what they are up to and how they write. I've just made a submission, so here's a quick peek behind the curtain.

My next Young Adult novel is called The Mayfly but while the publishing cogs are turning I thought I'd set myself a challenge and write something else before The Mayfly comes out.

I decided to go for Middle Grade (age 8-12). All I had was a very basic idea but no plot and no outline. On the 3rd July, I started writing.

Over the next three days I wrote about 8,000 words of nonsense to get a feel of what I could and couldn't do and began to develop a character I could work with. Once I had a better feel for where this might go, I went back and started again. I didn't have a plot at this stage, but I did have certain markers - a short list of scenes and ideas that I'd been thinking about. The plot developed as I followed the MC along the route. 

At the halfway point I mapped out a basic overview with a few chapter markers. I didn't really have an ending in mind, but it was starting to take shape. I returned to the main draft and knocked out another 10k. The plot began to develop so I went back to overview to get a God's view of what was going on. It wasn't perfect, but enough to push on and finish. Most writers speed up as they reach the end of a book. On my second last day I knocked out 6,500 words, writing the final 1,500 the following morning. In all, it took 26 days for that first draft 

So... job done?

Not really. Next comes the structural edit. This is a story edit, and involves reading through to search for mistakes and weak points in the story. What makes this difficult is it's very easy to slip and begin to correct grammatical mistakes. The purpose of a structural edit is to make sure the plot works, that clues are foreshadowed and found items are where they need to be. This is also the time to keep track of point of view, and that characters are motivated and react believably. Another important part of this stage is to strip out anything that doesn't push the story along, no matter how good the writing or idea. 

The structural edit isn't done in a single draft. Because it involves taking the story apart, there is a lot of backtracking and bouncing from one point to another. It can be very fiddly - often because changing one thing has knock on effects with the plot. Some writers try to do this at the planning stage - the snowflake method, for example - but I find planning in that amount of detail almost impossible. The result is the same though - a finished draft with a plot that works. 

Next is the storytelling edit. This is reading through (aloud if possible) to see if the story flows well, that it has a nice beat. I suppose you could call it style. It's where I look at sentence structure, grammar, control of voice. I try to strip out any repetition and try to work out if the simple stuff like dialogue tags or pronoun vs proper nouns causes confusion or slows down reading. 

  • Emily looked at the wolf and said, 'Stop right there.' 
  • She looked at the wolf and said, 'Stop right there.' 
  • She glared at the wolf. 'Stop right there!'
stuff like that.

So now I'm at the stage where I've got a full draft, the story works and reads well. But there will still be a few copy errors.

Copy edit. Time to read through again. This time there should be no hiccups in the text, nothing that makes me think, 'Oh hang on,' and start to fiddle. I'll be honest here and say there were a few, and I also noticed a couple of plot quirks that needed tweaking - that sudden moment when you realise character A would have realised what character B was doing much earlier. If that happens, I fix it then go back to the start of that chapter and copy edit all over again. 

And that's it. Finished. It took 26 days for the first draft and 16 days for the edits (I had a couple of days rest during each edit).

So what happens now? Now it goes to my agent - Joanna Swainson of Hardman and Swainson Literary Agency, and there's several ways this could go. 
  1. Agent loves it. It's the best thing I've written and she wants to send it out right away. In that case, we'll work on a short pitching blurb together and it will go out to editors. And here, my control ends. If things go well, Joanna will negotiate the contract, at some point I'll get a copy to sign and I might be included in cover blurb and art. That's a long, long process though. Probably 18 months, so I might as well work on something new.
  2. Agent loves it but it needs a few tweaks. I tweak the problem areas, clean and copy edit and send it back. Go back to step 1.
  3. Agent likes but doesn't love it. This is the tricky one, and probably the most frustrating for authors trying to get an agent, or authors that have an agent and think they simply don't get their latest book. An agent's main job is to sell, and in order to sell successfully they have to love the manuscript because they are putting their reputation on the line. An agent that makes sale after sale is going to have a better reputation than an agent who sends out any old shite in the hope it will stick. It doesn't necessarily mean the book is bad, but it's a good sign that something is missing. Agents have different ways of delivering this news. I feel very comfortable that Joanna doesn't sugar coat her responses. In that respect, number 3 is really number 4 in disguise.
  4. Agent doesn't like it at all, but still holds the belief that I can write. I've written a lemon. It's a one off. I tried a different genre and it didn't work. Get back to what you do best and write a decent book.
  5. Agent suddenly realises she's made a massive mistake in ever taking me on because I can't write for toffee. This is probably the worst outcome, short of taking out lawsuits, injunctions or attacking me with an axe. Realistically, an email or telephone conversation steering things towards a mutual split. Termination of contract. Author goes for another agent or decides he knows best and self publishes.
Ideally, option 1 would the best outcome, but 2 would be okay. 3 and 4 are pretty much the same, and the aren't the end of the world. You simply move on and write something else. 

Fingers crossed it isn't 5.

In the meantime, I can read, relax or start on something new. And that's it. That's writing. Good, eh?

Colin Mulhern

Thursday 11 August 2016

Review: Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee and Susan McClelland

Every Falling Star is the first novel to bring the reality of North Korea to a Young Adult audience. It's the true story of boy brought up in relative comfort of Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea, when suddenly, and without explanation, he is thrown into a world of unimaginable poverty.

At first, he is told is that his family are going on vacation, only to find that the house they are staying in is basic to the extreme. It soon becomes clear that this isn't a vacation at all and their new life is fraught with danger. All he can work out is that his father, who had an important job in the military, has done something to warrant this punishment on his entire family.

At the age of 12, Sungju finds himself alone and has to rely on his wits and the support of a small gang of street kids to survive. He learns to fight and steal while trying to avoid arrest, imprisonment and the fear of execution.

Every Falling Star is an incredible tale of hardship, friendship and survival - how someone really determined can adapt to impossible circumstance, and the painful cost that entails. A horrifying eye opener to a world shrouded in secrecy. Highly recommended.

The Authors

Sungju Lee speaks across Europe, Asia, and North America about his experiences and about North Korean political social issues. He lives in South Korea but studies in England.

Susan McClelland’s first book, Bite of the Mango, was a worldwide sensation, published in more than 30 countries. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

Monday 1 August 2016

Review: Moth Girls by Anne Cassidy

Two's company, three's a crowd, and Mandy never quite fits in with two close friends Petra and Tina. Maybe it's this feeling of not quite being part of the gang that causes her to hang back while Petra and Tina go into the old house they are so drawn to. And maybe that's why Mandy is alive to remember events of the night when her two friends went missing. The story kicks off five years later when the house is finally demolished and Mandy sees something that turns the whole mystery on its head.

The three main characters are drawn well and the friction of the three-way relationships is spot on. I really enjoy realism and grit in YA fiction and this certainly delivers in that respect, and there are aspects of the thriller that really grabbed me. It certainly ticked a lot of boxes for me as a reader.

Moth Girls takes a while to get going, and for me, there was a lot of meat on the bones that could have been trimmed - in particular, Mandy's interest in boys at school and the Tommy vs Jon subplot. While I understand the importance of this, it just didn't grab me the way the relationship between the girls did. It felt like it was beefing the story out when all I really wanted was to get back to the main mystery.

The ending is rather subtle and so understated that on first reading, I thought it was a case of deus ex machina. Having looked at it again, I think it's rather clever, but can't help feeling than Anne Cassidy missed a trick - but maybe that's just my taste. Sometimes, a bit of harsh reality (as is the case with Moth Girls) can resonate at a deeper level than plot twists and shock tactics.

Overall, a very good mystery thriller. Great stuff.

Thursday 7 July 2016

Coraline: Book vs Movie

Books are better, right? That's what I always hear, but I've often thought it was a snobbery - ie, "I'm more intelligent, therefore I can enjoy the depth of a book... bla bla bla." But sometimes a movie comes along that expands and develops a story. With Coraline being quite a short book, I wondered if this would be the case.

I read the book earlier this week, when realised I'd never read Neil Gaiman (other than a Sandman comic in the 90s) and keep hearing good things. And then I watched the movie last night.

First of all, I love stop motion animation. The movie of Coraline looks fantastic. The models and animations are fantastic, with stunning sets and some brilliant visual jokes (esp Miss Spink and Miss Forcible's musical number). However, there are other differences which really nail the difference between the format of a novel versus a movie. In particular, Wybourne.

Wybourne Lovat is a character that doesn't appear in the novel. That's because he isn't needed. A lot of Coraline's questions and thoughts are internal, and without a voice over, it's difficult to get these out in a movie - so Wybourne comes in. He has some great moments, and the stitched-on smile is grotequesly wonderful. But with Wybourne included - especially the ending - it undermines the heart of the book. Coraline is a book about a girl facing her greatest fear. This comes out in the book in a brilliant vignette where her father saves her from a swarm of wasps by telling Coraline to run while he stands still to attract the wasps and take their stings. This, he explains was not bravery - it was a situation where he had no option. But later, when he had to return to the same spot to retrieve his glasses, when he knew the wasps were waiting and understood the danger he was walking into - that was bravery. This scene is important because Coraline realises the danger of going back into the other house in order to rescue her parents. So the stakes are so much higher in the book.

And then there's the ending. The book is about a brave little girl who saves her parents and uses wit and cunning to stop the baddy. She is the hero, it's her journey, so she solves the puzzles. But in the movie, when she doesn't know what to do next, Wybourne bursts onto the screen to take over. Coraline makes the final move (much like the book) but because the movie has chosen action over strategy, this move comes across as an impulsive reaction. So it's good for the audience, who want to see the hero make a last minute escape, but rubbish for the character who merely survived, while in the book, she outwitted, overcome and beat that baddie by her own volition.

And that's why the book is better. That's wot I reckon.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Finding a place to write

You know when they say music can take you places. This post is kind of like that.

I got this album when I was eleven years old. I liked horror stories, saw this on a friend's t-shirt and simply had to have it. I listened to it over and over, unable to get over this incredible mix of visual story telling and incredible rock music. As I got into my teens I moved onto other stuff and this old album slipped away.

And then a few years ago, something popped into my head, so I went out and bought it again (my old vinyl albums went in the skip years ago). I got a massive bolt of nostalgia and started listening to it more and more.

When I take my son diving, the Aquatic Centre can be really noisy. I started putting this album on to drown out the noise around me. At first, it did the same old thing that most music does - it takes you away to a place. In my case, that's usually being on stage with a guitar (because in day dreams I can actually play one) and seeing a sea of fans jump about. But after a while, the music did the job it was meant to do - it cut out everything else allowing me to slip into my own world and write.

So now, when I go off to write, I put the same album on. It's become a trance thing - as soon as I hear those first few chords, I can go straight into writing mode. And then, a half hour or so later, I realise I haven't heard a single note.

Good music is like that. It's such an intrinsic part of you that it allows your mind to wander, to dream and visit other places.

Having said that, at night before I go to sleep, I stick my iPod on and listen to the same album and I'm right back on stage.

Monday 6 June 2016

Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Isabella knows that a world exists beyond the confines of her island, and she has maps to prove that. But since the new Governor arrived, no one is allowed to leave and half of the island is strictly out of bounds.

But when a girl is murdered, and then the Governor's daughter goes missing, Isabella adopts a disguise in order to join the search party. What she discovers makes her realise the mythical stories her father told her as a child have living roots that run deep into the heart of the island.

The Girl of Ink and Stars is an enchanting piece of storytelling with a magical mixture of visual wonder and spellbinding action. Wonderful.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

Loved this book.

Generally speaking, it's not YA, but I've added the YA tag - more on that later.

For the most part, The Three is a book within a book, and then follows the story of the author to see the long term effects of having had that book published.

I'm going to keep this short to avoid spoilers, but the basic plot is that four planes crash on the same day. In three of the planes, there is a single survivor and each one is a child. Perfect ingredients for conspiracy theories.

What follows is a collection of interviews and transcribed chats, webchats and tweets. Sounds complicated, but the stories grab you tight and pull you in. Very, very readable. But what really takes it to the next level is that each voice is so individual - so take note if you're interested in writing, because this book is quite simply a master-class in controlling your writing style to fit different characters.

I particularly loved Chiyoko and Ryu's story. (This is the reason for the YA tag). Thanks to this, I have a new favourite emoticon: Orz - meant to look like a figure kneeling down and banging his head on the floor.

The book has had some negative reviews for the ending, but for me, it's the ending that made the book what it is. If you're a fan of the TV series LOST, you might remember how the ending caused a big stir, and a lot of people spitting their dummies out. Same thing here I suppose. Some people like their threads all nice and neat and tied up; others enjoy something a bit more unsettling, something that keeps your brain ticking after you close the book and creeps into your dreams. That's me. Right there.

Great book.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Free ebooks

In gearing up for the launch of The Mayfly, I'm giving away Clash and The Boy Who Buried Dead Things for free.

The first chance is this weekend. Starting on Friday, 20th May until Saturday 21st both books are FREE on Amazon. Share and enjoy.

Here are the links:


The Boy Who Buried Dead Things

Thursday 12 May 2016

Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

This book won the Costa award, which makes sense: I felt like I needed coffee to get me through it!

Having said that, there is a lot that I enjoyed about The Lie Tree. Without giving spoilers, the plot has a wonderful touch of misdirection. I love it when magician hides their secrets in plain sight. Some of the imagery is incredible with beautifully written figurative prose. So I enjoyed the writing too - just not the story. 

The plot drags itself into life as Faith, the daughter of a "natural scientist" does little more than observe the actions of adults - after all, she's just a girl in a world where only men have sufficient brain capacity to understand science so there's not a great deal for her to do other than sneak a look at this, listen and feel sorry for herself.

She takes a more active role in the second half and pulls off some really cool scenes. The boat, the cave... and I especially liked the bag of rats. But it just wasn’t enough. She had no presence, no voice, and I found myself constantly checking how much longer I had in each chapter. 

As for the ending... With such strong, gothic undertones I was hoping for something more, something dark and as haunting and original as the idea of the tree itself. I felt a bit let down. There's nothing bad here, just nothing that made me really love it.

Saturday 7 May 2016

The Boy - erm...

When I first saw the trailer for The Boy, I thought it was a joke. It looked like a sketch by Mitchell and Webb or Harry Hill. The doll looks far too over the top, like it's trying much too hard to be creepy.

The film kicks off with Greta (Lauren Cohan) taking a job as a nanny in a big, scary house with a couple that are clearly too old to need a nanny. And so we meet Brahms, the doll that has replaced their dead child. And right there, I got why so many critics hated it. The tentatively dark atmosphere, the overly frightened parents hiding a terrible secret and a scary oil painting stuck on a wall of endless wood panelling and a possessed toy - all the ingredients of a classic, old-school horror to such a silly degree that the movie is smothered in cliché. Hence the reason it comes across as a parody, a joke.

But those things are only clichés because we watched so many movies using the same tools - because we liked them. We might look back on them now with a shake of the head, roll of the eyes and a shared smile, but there's a certain amount of endearing, slightly embarrassed nostalgia - a bit like remembering hideous fashions, or music you took so seriously.

Getting past all of that, the movie drew me in. In fact, it got to a point where I thought it had a new take, that it was playing on the psychological aspect of Greta, like the old couple, having to deal with the loss a child, and the boy really was just a doll; the ghosts were in her own head and this was really going somewhere...

...and then it all went tits up and resorted to type. It went from seventies' creepy to eighties' Wes Craven land. And I still enjoyed it (a bit), because I loved those movies too, but for a while there, I honestly thought it was going to take the old school style and show us something new.

Shame really. Could have been brilliant.

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Review: Ice Twins by SK Tremayne

I had this recommended a few months back and let it slip. Then I noticed it in a book shop and picked it up to see what the big deal was. I read the back waiting, just waiting for the term I dread most... "detective."

Don't get me wrong, I like crime fiction now and then, but it often feels that any decent thriller must have a gritty detective running about from clue to clue.

I kept reading... No detective. No investigator or renegade cop.

I bought the book.

The Ice Twins is the story of a couple trying to deal with the grief of losing one of their twin daughters. A year after the accident, they move to a secluded island in Scotland - little more than a rock in the sea with a lighthouse. The place is a mess, always cold, battered by bad weather and overrun with rats. But what really makes life difficult is the sudden realisation, and then confusion of which twin actually died. And is the surviving twin simply damaged by trauma, or is she really talking to her dead sister?

For any YA readers looking at this, The Ice Twins does contain adult content, but I can certainly see this seductive, haunting thriller appealing to readers of older, stronger YA, It's dark, atmospheric, often claustrophobic and definitely creepy. A fantastic psychological thriller. Highly recommended.

Friday 15 April 2016

Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Of the three post apocalyptic novels I've reviewed, this wins the prize for the most original reason why society has broken down. It's just... horrible and mad and genius.

We are thrown into a world five years after the world had ground to a halt. People live in houses with the windows boarded up, the doors locked and should they ever need to venture outside, they do so blindfolded. Something is out there, and if you see it.. it's already too late.

Malorie's story is told through a series of flashbacks. It began with news reports of violent deaths, attacks, cannibalism and suicide. No one knew why, and by the time people realised what might be causing it, it was too late. The internet died, the TV went off, radio stopped. Society collapsed.

And anyone going outside with their eyes open was a risk to themselves and anyone nearby.

I'm not saying any more than that - but I will say this book gave me nightmares. Two while I was reading, and one about two months later. Bearing in mind I've grown up on horror novels and movies, I'd say that was pretty damn impressive.

Birdbox is up there with the best examples of true psychological horror - Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House immediately comes to mind, as well as the "indescribable" horror of HP Lovecraft, in that the horror of the unseen is often far more disturbing than showing us a monster. Possibly because no matter how awful the monster is described, it's never as bad as what you thought it might be. But seeing someone else's reaction as they see something - that takes skill.

Bird Box is terrifying, compelling and utterly unforgettable. Superb.

Thursday 14 April 2016

Review: Lost Girl by Adam Nevill

Why rely on a zombie holocaust or killer virus to end civilisation when we're doing a pretty good job of screwing our future by ourselves?

That's the basic premise for the backdrop for Lost Girl. Global warming, the rising waters and mass migration to reducing land are the ingredients for chaos. And as populated areas reach critical levels, crime takes hold, controlled by warlords who know that the only way to protect your territory is to make your message clear.

And while this is all going on, a girl is snatched from the relative safety of her own garden.

The result is that the father goes on the hunt for his daughter, doing whatever he can to gather information to lead him to the next link in the chain.

A superb, gripping and at times violent and uncomfortable novel that tests the human resolve to see just how far a father will go to fight for the daughter he is sure is still alive. This is a shift from Adam Nevill's earlier work, but is clearly intensified with the stripes he's earned writing award winning horror. The back story and substantial research merges seamlessly with the central story, (as opposed to Wikipedia info dumps - ie Dan Brown). It also has what I see as his trademark - finely crafted, figurative detail that makes every page a pleasure to read. Great stuff.

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St.John Mandel

I'll hold my hands up here - it was the cover that grabbed me. As for the story... Station Eleven is The Stand for the Twitter generation.

When a novel starts with a virus bringing civilisation to its knees, it's hard not to make a comparison - and the similarity doesn't end there.

Station Eleven follows the trail of the Travelling Symphony, a small troupe travelling the land fifteen years after society's collapse, performing music and Shakespeare to scattered, surviving towns. Having left two of their group behind, they return to that same town to find the place overrun and under the violent control of the self proclaimed Prophet. Later, discovering a stowaway, they realise The Prophet is going to make sure to hunt them down and take back what is his.

The Prophet certainly comes across similar to Randall Flagg in The Stand, and I could feel the tension building towards a major confrontation. Unfortunately, the showdown was a let down and over far too quickly.

That aside, I do think Station Eleven is worth a read. The who POV of the book is quite refreshing and I love the idea that in a post apocalyptic world, there will still be people who see the value in entertainment. The troupe's caravan has a quote, taken from Star Trek, emblazoned on its side: "Because survival is insufficient."

It's an entertaining, quite mesmerising novel, and despite not being generally recognised as horror, Station Eleven made the shortlist for the 2015 August Derleth Award.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Review: The Rats by James Herbert

When I was about fourteen, I was on the metro, travelling to Newcastle. This was a regular way to spend Saturdays - I usally wandered about on my own. On this day, just as we were heading into a tunnel, an older kid nearby suddenly said to the lads with him, 'This is just like that bit in The Rats,' and began telling a scene where a tube train ground to a halt in the darkness of a tunned and went into gory detail about what happened next. I was hooked, and when the metro stopped, I went directly to a book shop. The only problem was that I had no money, so I had to read a few pages in one shop, go on to the next and read a few more pages then. Luckily, back then there were lots of books shops in Newcastle city centre.

It's good to see The Rats is still going. The story is simple: giant rats kill loads of people. The mystery is where the rats have come from, but it doesn't really get deeper than that; most of the attraction was the way in which the victims die (like I said, I was fourteen). It got me hooked on James Herbert (I had already read The Fog, thanks to my English teacher slagging it off as sick drivel - cheers for that).

James Herbert calmed his style down in later years, but despite this essentially being an adult horror, I've included the YA tag in this review because it was a teen that recommended it, I was a teen when I read it, and most of my friends got into James Herbert around the same time - partially because I'd written him a letter telling him what my English teacher had said. I've still go the reply.

Shortly before he died, James Herbert sent me a good luck message following the publication of CLASH. He's one writer I would have loved to have met in person.

Monday 11 April 2016

Review: Fat Kid Rules the World

I want to start this new batch of reviews/recommendations with the book that really changed what YA meant for me.

Fat Kid... opens with Troy, who is so fed up with the way he looks that he's contemplating suicide. Troy isn't just fat, he's morbidly obese and his self esteem is through the floor. Curt, on the other hand, is so skinny he looks malnourished but oozes confidence and flair. He sees something in Troy that other people don't and decides he's the man to be the drummer in his band. The fact that Troy can't play drums doesn't seem to matter, and is pretty reflective on Curt's outlook on life - obstacles are just things to overcome. As the boys' friendship develops, we learn more about Curt, the kind of problems he has to endure, and why he is the way he is.

I want to point out that Fat Kid... is not an "issue" book. Yes, it's about self esteem and finding the real you, but it never feels like it's trying to spoon feed you some politically correct message. It's just a damn fine book. Secondly, it's thirteen years since I first read this. Now, I read books all of the time, and sometimes I look at a book I read just a few weeks back can't remember a thing about it. Fat Kid Rules the World has stayed with me.

The language is raw and honest. It doesn't hold back, but isn't OTT either, allowing both characters come across as genuine without becoming parodies.

Writing Round-up and a Look ahead to 2024

2023 was a busy year writing-wise because I rewrote my first romcom in 1st person and relaunched it under a new title, Trust Me, I'm a L...