Posts Tagged book

Review: The Burnt Watcher

The Burnt Watcher Cover

This book was recommended to me by Nimue Brown, which kindled a lovely friendship with the author! I would say that any bias is unintended, but…

This book is absolutely in my Top 10 Reads of 2020. For a first-time, independently-published novel, it caught me up in its tale and I found myself trapped within its pages late into the night.

‘Five hundred years ago the old world burned and the Fear rose from the ashes and the Glass. Watchers knew the Fear and found the ways of fighting it, enabling the world to be built anew.’

This may be the calmest post-apocalyptic novel I’ve ever read. It starts long after the Big Catastrophic Event, and reminded me at first of Ellis Peters’ ‘Cadfael’ books: a spiritual man, injured in the course of his work and seeking peace and quiet, pulled into a mystery from a world he’d left behind.

Master Grey is a Watcher, trained to fight The Fear which destroyed the ancient cities and drove all survivors into the countryside. This is recognisably England, albeit with slightly changed names (watch out for the dangers of the M4 motorway!), with technology that is something between medieval and steampunk, born of practicality and without using any concrete whatsoever.

I love how Master Grey leads us through his world. He assumes that those hearing his tale already understand the foundations of his society, so doesn’t go out of his way to explain them – there’s little exposition here. He remembers events and people as they’re important to him, and so the reader is able to build the world he moves through it.

The Fear hasn’t been seen in many years, so the Watchers are now few in number. However, we soon learn that it has certainly not disappeared, but is working subtly in the background while humanity starts to forget. Yes, magic is present here, but in a very practical manner… and scoffed at by the ‘educated, civilized’ folk. Until they have need of it.

The author uses his own interpretation of folk magic such as ley lines and runes to create a very grounded spiritual tradition that quickly seems very natural. I’d be intrigued to see how the society of the book formed post-event, but at the same time it’s tremendous fun to figure it out myself.

There’s a few influences here, I’d guess, but all combine to make a fascinating world. From Cadfael we move to the Swiftian bureacracy of middle England, then on to ‘The Wicker Man’ (or even ‘Deliverance’), with shades of ‘Rivers of London’ and ‘Neverwhere’. I use these as hints, by the way – the book is absolutely its own creature – but if you like any of the above, you’ll likely enjoy this.

Before you know it the gentle pace has ramped up, and by the end is hurtling along as we read faster and faster to see how Master Grey will discover what’s going on, defeat the Fear, and how even moreย  damaged he might be as a result.

I understand that there is a sequel (or two) in the works, and they can’t come fast enough!

I love being recommended new books, and this is one Find that I’m happy to sing the praises of. Absolutely do seek it out.

The Burnt Watcher‘ is available for Kindle and in paperback via Amazon.

 

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Review: What Hell May Come

What Hell May Come Cover

I was kindly sent a review copy of this book by Crystal Lake Publishing.

The concept of this tale alone was intriguing to me, before I even began. What if the ‘Satanic Panic’ during the 1980s in America was real? This was the moral scare about Dungeons & Dragons being an entryway for impressionable young minds to discover Satanism, in case you didn’t know. Not the UK panic, which was concerned with video Nasties (all of which are now widely available).

My initial thoughts about the D&D scare was based on articles I read years ago from American newspapers, while researching for my BA dissertation. Worried mothers believed that their children were somehow possessed by their player-characters, or becoming drawn into the occult. For anyone who’s seen the D&D books of that time (or seen the television cartoon), this seems far-fetched, but it did happen. Blame the books that fire children’s imaginations in a way that the Real World never could…

Well, that last part is present in this book, at least. But this is no comedy poking fun at Conservative Christian parents.

If this book reminded me of any roleplaying game, it was actually White Wolf’s World of Darkness. This is the ’80s through a lense of nihilism, suspicion and kids just trying to survive in a messed-up world that makes absolutely no sense. Reaganomics translates to ‘every person for themselves’. Sexism and racism are still present, fear of The Outsider, money being the ultimate goal of life… this is darkest satire, but for those of us who remember that decade (I was one of those kids), this is an alternative universe that with just a nudge, could be our Real World.

We follow a young protagonist, Jon St Fond, and his alter-ego Crixen Runeburner, as they battle past monsters of very different types, but equal threat. Jon and his friends come from messed-up and neglectful families (each in its own unique way), and D&D brings them together for those rare times when they can be heroes instead of losers.

So far, so typical of how D&D was often portrayed. But as we delve deeper into Jon’s life, we see that there’s more to the ‘mundane’ world that he may have thought. A new roleplaying game that seems more obviously influenced by the occult, acquired by a dodgy magician in a strange part of town. His parents are acting suspiciously, apparently encouraging his sisters to dive into the worst debaucheries. And why are there cameras all over their house?

I don’t want to give too much away. This is a slow burn of a novel, and occasionally difficult to read – but the ‘money and drugs’ image of the ’80s is shown here in filthy Trainspotting-style glory. Everything has a veneer of sleaze, everyone’s corrupt or on the take. The occasional innocent is food for the wolves.

I was hypnotised as Jon’s journey took him ever deeper into the abyss that lay behind the everyday normality of life. More than a few times, I caught myself thinking ‘this can’t be happening!’ – but it was. This book throws any rules or tropes of genre out of the window, and bloodily carves its own path, dragging you along with it.

My only disappointment was that after the slow click-click-click of the rollercoaster rising to the climax of the story, the ending seemed sudden, almost rushed. Everything was concluded, but somehow faster than it deserved. I wanted Jon to get more, after all he’d been through.

But hey – life is tough. By the end, our hero(es) set off into their lives very different people from that waaay back at the beginning.

And this is a story that won’t leave my mind anytime soon, either.

Recommended, but be wary. Here there be monsters – and you may know some of them already.

‘What Hell May Come’ is out now in paperback or ebook via Amazon.

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Review: ‘Deus Ex Mechanic’

Deus ex Mechanic cover

‘Deus Ex Mechanic’ is the first full-length novel by Ryann Fletcher. I was kindly provided with an early ARC, but have promised an unbiased review.

This book has had a difficult birth. Originally scheduled to be hitting shelves (and ereaders) last year, it was delayed due to the publisher unfortunately closing down. The author took the brave decision to self-publish… and I’m very glad that she did.

We are taken on the journey of Alice, a humble mechanic in a future where humanity has colonised the galaxy and potentially beyond. We see a little of her life deep in the bowels of an enormous starship – where she’s busy working on the boiler with her trusty wrench. For this is science fiction, but with a generous slice of steampunk thrown in. Shiny and space-age on the outside, messy and basic underneath!

The action begins quickly, as Alice is kidnapped during an explosive incursion by a pirate crew led by Captain Violet. And if you know anything about this book, the sparks that soon fly aren’t just those in the boiler room.

The universe-building is intriguing, and definitely drew me in. There are clear parallels with the benevolent socio-political framework of ‘Star Trek’, with hints of the ‘Warhammer 40K’ fascistic society – but let’s not hide the obvious. This is a loving wink at ‘Firefly’, with a hierarchical ruling political body being quietly opposed by small groups of active pirates and folks just looking to survive.

Alice faces the dilemma of the ‘safe’ captivity of her regular role within the not-Federation, versus the freedom and danger offered by the crew of the ‘Cricket’. It isn’t an easy decision, and the pirates each have their own opinions on their new mechanic. It’s not ‘hard’ sci-fi, instead absolutely its own engaging form of space-opera drama.

The characters soon become like old friends. I was again reminded of ‘Firefly’, with its tiny-but-unique gang of criminals, but the Cricket is definitely its own beast. I found myself mentally casting a TV series as the book went on, because I so wanted to see the action-packed adventures of Violet, Ned, Hyun and the rest.

The story moves along fast, with pleasant pauses in the action to allow breathing room for relationships to develop… before jumping back into Major Peril again! It’s tremendous fun, moving smoothly from one incident to the next, but never feeling rushed. We know why everyone acts as they do, and are keen to see what happens as events unfold.

Also, this isn’t ‘just pin a cog on it’ steampunk. I was so glad that the universe seems organic (so to speak), without any hand-waving technobabble to make the plot progress. Pipes and boilers must be maintained to make starships run. Whole worlds of people rebel against the wider accepted society just by living their lives. Freedom under threat is preferable to (comparative) luxurious captivity. Literal Steam-Punk.

I understand that a sequel is already complete, and am very pleased to say that I can’t wait to see what shenanigans Alice and Violet get up to next. A fantastic first novel. Definitely recommended.

‘Deus ex Mechanic’ is available on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, etcetc.

Note: Because the in-person event had to be cancelled, Ryann is kindly holding an online Launch Party tonight on her YouTube channel. I’ll be there!

 

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Writing Process

A few people have asked about my ‘Process’ – that dreaded method by which authors are supposed to sit down and write each day. Not just authors actually, but all creative people. Because we are but machines, cranking out Art no matter what’s going on in our lives…

I am joking there, but only a bit. It is important to have some sort of routine, like a workday in a regular office, which encourages the inspiration to flow.

Sometimes for me, it happens randomly. Quite often, ideas will happen when I’m walking the dogs, and I have to rush home to jot things down while ‘in the zone’. Or I have a dictaphone app to record the ideas for when I’m back. Then I can get on with enjoying the walk, and see what other ideas may come up (and they usually do).

This year, however, I have A Plan. This January, I want to get into the writing habit of Daily Words. Ideally 1000 words per day, hopefully more, sometimes less. Or none. But that’s all ok.

I read a lovely quote last week, which said even if you write 300 words a day, you’ll soon have a full book’s worth. This is true. Happily, I find it very difficult to write so little once I’ve started! But 1000 words is around a single blog post, so that seems a reasonable target.

Yesterday, there were no words. My brain would not let me. So I tried to distract it in other ways. I finished the second sleeve of a jumper I’ve been knitting (since Summer, as I had an attack of Fear and put it aside because it seemed too daunting). Now I just have to sew in the ends, and it’s done!

Something creative, every day. Ideally, words. Sometimes those words will be nonsense. But they are there, and I got myself in a place to allow them to come.

I carry a notebook and pen, or the aforementioned dictaphone app. Who knows what will appear in them? Again, setting the space.

I’m reading, as research usually lends itself to ideas. At other times, when engaged with mindless knitting or a fun movie, another Good Thought will pop into being. Catch it, make a note – slot it into the rest of the writing wherever it seems best.

The file currently on my laptop called ‘Book 3’ is a mess at the moment. A good mess, mind, with lists of ideas, key words, an introduction and several random chapters. Once it gets to a certain size, I’ll start editing, moving things around, realizing bits that I’ve forgotten and generally whipping it into shape.

In the meantime, I know that those words are there. My subconscious will be busy with them, allowing those new thoughts to appear, listening for ideas from other people (and very random sources!)… being open. Because every day, there’s the potential to let that creativity flow. I sit at my desk and…

In case you were wondering, today’s words have already been done. So far, at least. This is just a bonus.

What are you doing with your creativity today?

Addendum: Here’s my ‘muse’ Fen, who ensures that I’m always having regular breaks away from my desk:

fen jan 19 (2)

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Still Singing…

As the Autumn season truly moves in, I find myself at last at home again. My travels surrounding book events have finished. I’m preparing for new workshops, students and hunkering down with Book 2.

And yet, I feel as if somehow, I’m not doing enough. I’ve put myself ‘out there’, in the world, and people are responding – therefore, I’m clearly performing a function that’s needed. I’m very grateful for this, more than I can ever express.

But it’s still a question of balance. Boundaries need to be maintained. Where do my ‘Professional’ and ‘Personal’ lives intertwine, merge and then separate again?

I don’t know if this is a question that I’ll ever be able to truly answer; it may be one of those that changes over time as I do, and as my role and practice change. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s important.

Sometimes during this madly busy Summer, I’ve felt as if I’ve lost myself. My To-Do list has taken over, so many people asking questions, reminding me of things. As a former professional Organizer (read: Personal Assistant), the idea that I’ve let tasks, events or duties get away from me is appalling. This is both good and bad – bad in the panicked moments, good in the restraint, as I bring myself back to what I need to be doing. Nobody is intentionally forgotten, there’s just a lot going on.

However, like many workaholics that I’ve seen over the years, the one thing that is forgotten on the To Do list is ‘Be Yourself’. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but without personal integrity, sense of self, constant challenging and discovering, then how valid is anything that I say? In this sense, it’s far too easy to forget that YOU are the main, primary constant in your life, as Living becomes subsumed by Doing.

One thing that I knew would eventually appear after the book was published is The Troll. Regular internet users will know the sort – the person who seems to haunt public e-places purely to niggle, to pick, to make trouble. They start arguments but don’t engage with them – there’s no back and forth, just constant harangues, confused self-righteous logic and eventually, simple abuse.

Sure enough, one of these delightful individuals appeared a while ago. They put voice to my inner concerns and worries, grabbing on and worrying at the slightest perceived weakness, refusing to answer my questions but simply arguing around and around. How dare I say anything, I’m not an authority on their spirituality. I’m just standing up and posturing for attention. Who do I think I am. Etc etc etc. And of course, that ultimate teenage cry: You don’t understand me!

Frustrating. Hurtful (so far as I let it). But also pathetic and rather pitiful. With all the noise they were putting out, this person was entirely missing the point. Perhaps I do understand them – and that’s something they can’t bear. It’s far easier to cause trouble via the anonymity of the Internet than to face your demons… even if that’s (apparently) what you’re trying to do.

I’ve said many times, I can only tell my story – nobody else’s. I’m not saying mine’s better, nor that you should follow my way. There’s nothing wrong with your own story, after all. I’m sure it’s far more suitable for your life than trying to live someone else’s.

But the fury that comes out when you discover that nobody can live your life for you can be tangible over the massive electronic media communities that we all inhabit. The cries of abuse when misunderstanding is caused by almost incomprehensible, misspelled Tweets. A world of pain contained in such a small burst of text, with no back-story, context or truth. Those who mean well and try to help are firing blindly into this lack of story – resulting in the oh-so frustrating, general message of: ‘HUGS’.

A couple of weeks ago, my Inbox contained the polar opposites of these issues. One from the Troll, apparently angry at me for not sticking around to listen to their abuse, how dare I ignore them, that just proves them right all along, blah blah, bad grammar and more abuse. Oddly enough, I felt that enough time had been wasted on trying to engage with this person and receiving only bile. A line was drawn.

The other was from a total stranger, asking for advice (OK), telling me a little of their story (lovely)… and then asking me to be their guru, their teacher, their High Priestess. They may have had the word ‘Crystal’ in their online name. I replied politely, asking for more information on what they were looking for. And never heard from them again.

While these are opposites in opinions of me, there is a clear parallel to be seen. Both people need help, and are reaching out across the internet webs. The former cannot deal with admitting weakness, so any help will be rebuffed – yet they keep seeking. The other is opening themselves to a random stranger (me in this case) for help, perhaps through desperation or perception of what I am and can provide.

Neither is truly able to engage, to connect. I have no doubt that both will continue to seek, wandering the vast and echoing halls of cyberspace, looking for someone to understand them fully in 180 characters or less, and have the power to sort their lives out for them. I’m sure you can guess the outcome.

Then there are those who become friends. I’ve said often, I always try to help – no questions will receive a rude reply, even if they involve the word ‘naked’ or ‘sacrifice’ (honestly, are you surprised that I’ve been asked?). But those who are willing to have a conversation, those I’ve met at random events and shared laughter and tea with, those who know I’m human too… these are the ones I’ll be up at silly o’clock in the morning talking to. Those who remind me both who I am and why I’m doing this.ย  Reforging connection through relationship. In person and in spirit.

I can’t live up to a perception, a stereotype. If I wasn’t true to myself, it would be obvious to those of you listening, and my words would become worthless. Just another Internet Pagan, retreading the same old ground. It would become so easy to become a snake-oil salesman, peddling false hopes. I can’t do that. I just have to remember to take time for me as well, so that my truth remains… well, true.

I’m looking forward to the winter, hugely. Me time, hibernation. I’m coming to understand why so many writers are solitary hermits, in a small office or shed at the end of the garden, tea and snacks at hand, scribbling away. Sometimes that’s all you need in order to create. But then you emerge: tired perhaps, but bright, happy, accomplished, fuelled by that connection, that Awen.

I can only tell my story. You can only tell yours. But that is life’s quest – both seeking out your true story, and discovering that it can actually be quite a good one. We’re all doing that, you and me.

Some might not like it. They’ll disappear, grumbling at perceived slights and misunderstood ideas. But those who truly know you… will know. And smile.

The kettle’s on. Make yourself comfortable – I’ll be back soon.

๐Ÿ™‚

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Book Launch – 30th June 2012

Do let me know if you’d like to come, or get tickets here. Cost is to cover food and drink – this really is a mutual celebration! And feel free to circulate this flier however you’d like.

Exciting times… ๐Ÿ™‚

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It’s Official…

… I have an Amazon page ๐Ÿ™‚

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1780991134/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_u4BDpb0RQHY5H

Kindle pre-orders to follow, I understand. But if you want a signed one direct from me, click via the book page on the right here –>

Exciting times!

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Interview and Reading

A quick post to let my lovely readers know that I’ve been interviewed by the excellent ‘Divine Community’ podcast on Druidry and my upcoming book!

To hear what I sound like, and with an excerpt from the introduction, please take a listen Divine Community Episode 5.

Exciting times!

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