The Trouble with Books…

I’ve been an avid reader for more years than I can recall and have often spent many hours ‘coming down’ from a damn good book, marvelling in the language, the imagery, or the sheer entertainment value. But even when I was completely bowled over by a story, I wouldn’t have dreamed of putting my opinions into words, let alone sharing them with anyone else.

Publishing my own books, however, made me I realise how useful reviews can be to authors, not to mention a bit of reader feedback and good old-fashioned praise.

So I added a Review Requests page to my website and though I never advertised it anywhere, soon found I was getting a lot of requests. And yeah, that was great, but after a while I was having to turn books down – books I really wanted to read, but couldn’t possibly get to in the time-frame the authors wanted.

And then of course there’s the FAP problem – the Favourite Authors Pile. Initially, I wanted to prioritise reviews of books by indie authors, but then I thought – what about all those other writers whose work I’m already familiar with and whose books I still want to read? How do I squeeze those in too?

In the last seven months, I’ve read 44 books, and here we are almost at the end of the year and I’ve already got reviews booked up until June 2017, and that’s not counting all the books I’ve bought that aren’t even on my list.

And that’s why I’m cutting down on accepting new reads. Although of course, I’ll still be accepting new reads because there are always going to be books I can’t resist, or authors whose book launches I’m helping with and so on. So I’m not cutting down at all. In fact, all I’m doing is preventing my list of reviews-to-do stretching into 2018. At least for now.

So if anyone out there would like me to review their recent thriller, police procedural, children’s adventure or collection of horror stories, by all means drop me a line. I’ll probably say no, but I might not.

Pushing Through the Pain Barrier

Whether you’re expecting to churn out 50,000 words or 150,000 words, getting to that last sentence – the one that tells you the book is finally done – can be a bit of a battle. For me it’s also the justification that even though for most of the process I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing, I still got there in the end.

Okay, I know those of you who are planners might think that my way (seat-of-the-pantsing) is a bit hit and miss, but it’s also what makes finishing a book that much more satisfying. When you don’t know what’s coming, the ending can be as much of a surprise to the author as to the reader.

I hate planning, so when I started writing ‘Death on a Dirty Afternoon’ I only had three things in my head:

    1 The title
    2 The first line
    3 That I knew it was going to be about a taxi driver.

The title was inspired by some of my children’s novels, in that I wanted it to have five words (The Hounds of Hellerby Hall, The House That Wasn’t There etc) as well as a bit of alliteration.

The first line came from a bunch of examples I made up when I was writing my series of articles about writing. At the time, I liked the sound of it, though didn’t have any plans to use it, or any idea where it might take me if I did:death-on-a-dirty-afternoon-cover-new-copy

Frank had lain down on the dining room table before, but in the past he’d always been either sound asleep or dead drunk. Now he was just dead.

I’ve already talked about the inspiration for the taxi-driver character in a previous post, so I won’t repeat it here. However, it was the title and that first line that got me started and kept me going to what I suppose would have been the half-way mark.

And it was at that point I got stuck.

Now, I’m not a writer who often gets stuck, so to become aware of that feeling creeping over me, the one that whispers ‘Hey buddy, maybe you’ve been wrong all these years and writer’s block does exist?’ was a little scary. So what did I do? How did I get past it?

I kept on writing.

Yeah, I know, it’s easy to say it, but not so easy to do. However, because it’s generally the way I write anyway (without a damn clue where I’m going), it wasn’t really that hard. Well, I say that, but this time it actually was quite hard, because I’d already started to convince myself that maybe this was the one that would get the better of me. After all, even Stevie King has novels he’s never finished!

It was challenging, and most days I had to force myself to carry on. Whenever I felt that writer’s-block nightmare creeping towards me, I slammed my metaphorical fists on the table and banged away at my laptop even more vehemently than the last time I’d slammed my metaphorical fists on the table. And on the worst day of that nightmare, I got up to 6,438 words (a personal best, actually), and that was the day I knew it was going to be okay.

Even so, I was halfway through the penultimate chapter before I knew what the ending was going to be, and still, I wasn’t totally sure.

So what’s my point? Well, just that writing is bloody hard work and sometimes you have to do that athlete thing of battling your way through it even when it looks like there’s no hope of getting to where you need to be. Pushing through the pain barrier might sound a little drastic, but for me, sometimes that’s quite simply the only thing that’ll get me to the finish line.

Of course, there’s still that creeping Writer’s Block Monster hiding under the table, waiting for the next time, when he might get his claws into me and I won’t be able to…

‘His Kidnapper’s Shoes’ by Maggie James

His Kidnapper’s Shoes

Laura Bateman must face up to what she has done, which means facing up to her past. Acknowledging that her relationship with her son is not what it should be, is never going to be easy.

Daniel has always felt he was in the wrong place, with the wrong family, and now grown up, he learns his muddled ideas were not simply a figment of his imagination – his mother is not who he thought she was, and the discovery rips him apart. Searching for facts, he finds out more than he bargained for, but his questions seem destined to generate more questions. Whatever happens, one thing is clear – forgiving Laura is not on the agenda…

These days, kidnap and sexual abuse seem to be hitting the headlines with awful regularity, so it’s no surprise when a novelist pulls apart the subject matter to look at why and how such things happen, as well as exploring the consequences for all concerned. These aren’t easy things to discuss, let alone write about, so for that reason alone, this is a book well worth reading.

The last time I read one of this author’s novels (Blackwater Lake), I really liked it, though I have to say, it wasn’t a patch on this one. I’m happy to admit I didn’t expect His Kidnapper’s Shoes to be this good, but Maggie James knocked me a little bit for six and had me in tears a few times into the bargain. She gets right down inside her characters in a way we don’t often see, particularly when tackling such difficult issues. At times, given the premise of her story, I struggled to see how she was going to bring it all together without leaving everyone in a bit of a mess, but the denouement was realistic as well as satisfying.

A well-written, thought-provoking and cleverly-constructed story.

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New App from Inkitt

Thought this was interesting – Inkitt Publishing have launched a new app that looks pretty neat. They say it can be downloaded from the App Store

There’s also a nice little video

Inkitt, the Hipster’s Library – Read and fall in love with novels before they go mainstream.

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Crime, Romance, YA, Action, Adventure, Erotica: Hand-picked Novels of All Genres on Inkitt!


‘Single Chicas’ by Sandra Lopez

Single Chicas

A sister who can’t accept her sibling’s choice of wife, a woman whose plan to avoid being hit on by guys leads to unforeseen complications, and how a series of strange phone calls prompts a singleton to doubt her own sanity. Short stories are like buses – if the first one doesn’t happen to be going in a direction that appeals to you, you can hop on the next one.

And so it is with this unusual collection, featuring a group of disparate young women finding their way through life and love. We see the ups and downs of coupledom in all its glory – though the ‘downs’ have the majority vote. These tales are not about the lovey-dovey side of relationships, instead the characters tend towards the mean, the jealous and the selfish. Many, such as the girl in the title story, start well but end abruptly or without reaching any kind of realistic resolution.

Having said that, there are some intriguing characters, like mechanic Cisco in ‘Always a Price’, whose outlook on life clashes with that of the heroine. I loved this guy and his dialogue, and okay, he was thoughtless and a bit stupid, but I wanted to know what happened to him. Instead, the story simply stops. But, like the aforementioned buses, that’s the nature of short stories – sometime you get them, sometimes you don’t.

Aimed at girls of all ages, the author has created some interesting scenarios with potentially fascinating characters, and while I’m sure this collection will have wide appeal for many readers, Single Chicas didn’t quite do it for me.

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‘After the Texans’ by Declan Milling

After the Texans

Director of Market Integrity with the UN’s carbon market watchdog, Emil Pfeffer has a problem – his girlfriend Johanna has been kidnapped. Told she’s being held as an insurance against Emil poking his nose into the corrupt government of Papua New Guinea, it seems there’s no choice but to comply, at least until he can get a lead on where she might be.

When his boss sends him to London, Emil chances on a link to Johanna’s disappearance. The possibility of a few days leave gives him the opportunity to follow the trail, but an assignment comes up he can’t get out of. On his way to meet a legal team in Hong Kong, Emil spots an unexpected face in the crowd. This time, however, following the clues lands him in a difficult situation – one he may but be able to get out of alive.

After The Texans is the second novel in the Carbon Black series. Though I hadn’t read the first one, I had no problems picking up the story. The author is a talented writer with a thorough knowledge of his subject, creating a vivid and realistic setting in the high-stakes world of fossil fuel resources and Australian domestic politics. Amid the main character’s entanglements with police and security services, this intriguing and clever thriller ripped along, with each chapter leaving me wondering what the hell was going to happen next.

Declan Milling’s writing is sharp and well observed, and his characters positively ripple with authenticity. All in all, a jolly good read.

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