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:

Clash

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.