Book Review – Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

Breathless and Shocking.

This book has been on my ‘to be read’ pile since Christmas. I wish I’d got to it sooner. I devoured it in two sittings.

The story follows two women over a period of just a few hours during an outbreak of a lethal, rapidly spreading rabies-type virus. Natalie, who is eight months pregnant, has been bitten and Ramola, her best friend who is a doctor, is trying to save the lives of Natalie and her unborn child.

Survivor Song is a high-speed roller coaster of trials and disasters, fear and tension, shocking violence, societal breakdown, love and loyalty, pain and loss, desperation and heart wrenching decisions. It’s not a ZA novel but in many ways, it feels and reads as one. It’s not deep or pretentious, just a damned good story.

What I liked.

The pace. The race to save Natalie and her baby never slowed or stopped and neither did I.

The characters. I laughed out loud at Natalie’s scathing sarcasm and dark humour in spite of the terrifying situation she found herself in. I adored Ramola for her unfailing loyalty to her friend that pushed her past terrible limits she could never have imagined.

I really liked the “Bill and Ted” duo they met on their journey with their creatively quirky hydrophobia test.

The book was a well-written easy read.

In certain scenes the style and structure of the book ‘broke with convention’ but this served to create a vivid picture of the extreme shock, fear and confusion the character was experience.

Something I might steal in my own writing!

The echoes of or own recent experience during the pandemic including PPE shortages, overwhelmed healthcare services and unprotected workers were very relatable.

What I didn’t like

… nothing …

I absolutely loved this book and would definitely recommend it if you are into dystopian survival horror – and even if you’re not! I have just bought Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts and can’t wait to get started.

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Wet Paint

NYC Midnight 100 Word Microfiction Challenge 2022

It’s that time of year again. The NYC Midnight challenges for 2022 have begun. This year I’ve only been able to enter one – the 100 word microfiction challenge – as I have too many other things going on when the others take place.

Telling a story in 100 words is harder than you might think and is even harder when you have to write to a set brief under a tight timescale of just 24 hours.

In April, 6,973 writers were divided into 118 groups of around 59 per group and set their first challenge. Mine was:

Genre: Comedy

Action: Waiting for a Train

Word: legal

I was on holiday in Nice at the time and didn’t want to spend too much time sitting indoors on my laptop so I felt a lot of additional pressure with this one, especially as my partner was waiting for me to finish before we could get out and enjoy the French sunshine.

After many more “empty head” minutes than I care to remember, I came up with a little ditty called Wet Paint. I wasn’t particularly happy with it but when I read it to my partner and he laughed out loud at the end I decided just to submit it and hope for the best.

I’m happy to say that Wet Paint squeezed through to Round 2 at number 14 of the top 15 qualifiers in my group! This morning I have been writing my entry for the next stage of the competition. This time 1,770 writers were assigned to 27 groups with approximately 66 writers per group. My challenge for this round was:

Genre: Fairy Tale/Fantasy

Action: Popping a Bubble

Word: Bitter

It’s a little little encouraging that I wrote my first ever fantasy piece last month and it got great feedback from my peers! I’ll let you know how I get on at the end of July.

In the meantime here is Wet Paint for (I hope) your amusement and entertainment.

Wet Paint

The station was a riot of football noise and colour. Edgar’s brand-new England shirt was a white beacon in a sea of blue and white stripes.

He regarded the Greek sign on the empty blue bench. He couldn’t read Greek. His train was in fifteen minutes. He needed to rest.

Edgar removed the sign and sat down. It couldn’t be legal, not to sit on a bench. What was the worst that could happen?

The station was a riot of football noise and colour. Edgar’s brand-new, Greek shirt melted into the sea of blue and white stripes.

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The Dragon Slayer

A High Fantasy Challenge

For each of our JAMS monthly creative writing meetings we all prepare a piece based on a a randomly selected prompt. We take turns to read each others work and, after the meeting, provide each other with a full written critique. It’s the main method that we use to develop and improve our writing skills.

Sometimes the prompt can really test our abilities. This was the case last month when the challenge was to write a High Fantasy story that featured a Dragon Slayer and contained the word “gracious” somewhere in the text.

I was so far out of my comfort zone that I thought, for the first time ever, I was not going to be able to complete the task. However, I persevered and produced a story that I was reasonably happy with. Honestly, I was just delighted that I had managed to come up with something at all.

I was both surprised and delighted when my fellow JAMS members were blown away by my story. If it weren’t for a few typos and sloppy mistakes, I would have been awarded full marks in both of their written critiques.

You can read the story below (with – I hope – all errors and typos corrected). I hope you enjoy my first foray into the realms of High Fantasy as much as my colleagues did!

The Dragon Slayer by J. M. McKenzie

The hamlet of Lemon Arbour has lived under the shadow of the dragon named Qomrirarth for many years. Too many years. The time has come to slay the beast. But what of the fabled dragon slayer? Who is he? Where is he? Why has he left them to fend for themselves for so long?

Engar was two years into his second decade when he first heard talk of seeking the Dragon Slayer. The dragon, who had been the scourge of the small hamlet of Lemon Arbour, in the Vale of Terrador, for as long as Engar could remember, was named Qomrirarth. The name meant, the bright one, on account of the vivid green markings that sparkled like emeralds on his wings, the shimmering of which could be seen from many miles away, forewarning of his next dreadful arrival.

On first sight of green sparkles at the hazy line where land meets sky, the village bells would peal their warning and a flurry of fearful activity would ensue. The frantic gathering of livestock, the anxious recall of children at play, the hurried boarding of cottage doors and windows and the collection of water with which to quench the flames that would inevitably burn in the aftermath of Qomrirarth’s fury.

Engar, had never known a life outwith the shadow of Qomrirarth. Indeed, Jaquard, eldest of elders, had once told him that the dragon had made its first appearance on the very day that Engar celebrated the completion of the first year of his first decade. Back then, the dragon too had been but a young fledgling, probably, Jaquard said, not more than one year since hatching himself. In those early days, he had taken only chickens and newborn lambs or kids, but as he had grown, so had his appetite and his strength and last month he had carried off a fully grown dairy cow from the herd of Daymar Garanthon.

On the day in question, Qomrirarth, had seized his first human prey and thus a line had been crossed for the people of Lemon Arbour. Nerensyth Larendarson, the eldest daughter of Grandal and Heta Larendarson, had been ignoring her mother’s cries to get inside and gathering up a kitten that had wriggled from her grasp as the family hurried for cover. Nerensyth had been trying to coax it from behind a tall, wooden water barrel when Qomrirarth had swooped from the sky in a blur of green and red and carried her away. The kitten survived.

Now the whole village was talking of the Dragon Slayer.

Engar sat at the top of the stairs long after he had been sent to bed and listened to his parents talk. It was a cold night and he had dragged the soft wool comforter from his bed to wrap around his shoulders in an attempt to stop his chattering teeth from revealing his hiding spot. The dying embers of the day’s fire created a slowly decreasing orb of warmth and orange light, which caused his parents to draw their chairs closer and closer to the hearth, making it difficult to hear all their words, but Engar heard enough. They were planning to seek a Dragon Slayer to kill Qomrirarth.

“It is time,” his father was saying. “We have waited too long. We have been foolish. And now it has come to this. None of our children are safe.”

“But we always thought the slayer would come. They always do,” said his mother. “It is their destiny. It is how it is. For every dragon there is a slayer and, when the time is right, they will come together. It is their fate. It has always been this way and it always will.”

“But where is our slayer?” his father cried. “Where is he when we need him? We cannot wait! The time is now. Fate or not. If the slayer will not come to us, we will have to seek him out. We must make haste. Who knows who will be taken next? It could be one of our own! Baby Sarander, little Mesophe or even Engar! No, we must act. We must act now. As is his custom, the beast will be quiet for two score days after his successful excursion. We have time. Tomorrow I will gather a group of good men and we will journey down the vale in search of the slayer.”

Engar couldn’t understand why this conversation disturbed him so. He shivered and pulled his comforter tighter around him as he snuck back up to his room and climbed into his cot. His sisters, Sarander and little Mesophe, slept on the other side of the room, head-to-tail in theirs. He lay awake for a long time after he heard his parents go to bed in the next room and the whole house grew quiet and colder still. Stars twinkled outside in the clear night sky and the waning moon washed the room in a silver light. Engar knew that when sleep eventually claimed him he would dream of Qomrirarth. He always did.

He had always felt a strange connection to the dragon. Of course, he had a healthy fear of the death and destruction the creature wreaked upon them on its monthly visits to the village. Of course, he cowered under the kitchen table with his sisters as its great wings thundered and its fiery breath roared outside. But Engar also saw the beauty in its lithe and powerful form and the brilliant colours and patterns of its scales. Saw the elegance and grace in the rhythmic, rippling of its wings in flight. Heard the melody in its cry and sensed the intelligence in its piercing green eyes.

Engar’s eyes were green too. So green that sometimes the other children in the village teased him about being related to Qomrirarth. That they were brothers. That Engar had not been birthed from his mother’s womb but had hatched from an egg. They called him Qom or Qomo and always made him play the monster in games of tag or hide and seek. They pretended to kill him in their playfights, poking and swiping at him with their stubby wooden swords until he sulked home with his head down and his shoulders slumped, tears welling in his eyes.

But they were right. He did feel a connection with the dragon, and at no time was this stronger than when he closed his eyes each night and entered the world of his dreams.

He first started dreaming of Qomrirarth in the first year of his second decade. He never told anyone about the dreams. Not even his parents. Fearful that by speaking of them that they might fuel the fire of his imagined bond to the beast. Fearful that he would be shunned by his family and rejected by his so-called friends if he revealed any signs that might threaten to transform a childish fantasy into a terrifying reality.

 The dreams had a clear and regular pattern. Each night he would find himself walking out towards Qomrirarth’s lair. In the waking world it was over a day’s walk from Lemon Arbour, at the end of the Vale, beyond the Red Forest, high in the Mountains of Elwyre. But in his dreams, he covered the distance like a wisp, feet skimming over hill and dale like a gazelle, weaving through the forest like a breath of wind, and scaling rocks and boulders as nimbly as a mountain goat.

The strange thing about the dreams was that he never reached the lair, always awakening back in his bed before reaching his goal. But, every year since the dreams had begun, he had got closer and closer before the dream had ended. In the past year he had reached the edge of a deep crater littered with bones and rotting carcasses. From inside a dark cave at the far end of the basin he could hear the deep rumble of Qomrirarth’s breathing, see the wisps of steam and smell the acrid scent of brimstone that drifted from deep within. This night, the night of the eavesdropped conversation about the Dragon Slayer, he got as far as to take his first step down into the hollow before he awakened.

As discussed, the next day, his father and a group of men set out on a journey to seek out a dragon slayer. They returned one score and eighteen days later, dejected, and disappointed. The day after their return Qomrirarth struck again, this time claiming the widow Armthwaite who had been out walking and had taken shelter under the old Sycamore tree at the centre of the high meadow, knowing that she did not have either the speed or succor to make it back to the village in time.

And so, life continued as before. All talk of the Dragon Slayer ceased. Weeks became months and months became years. Qomrirarth came and went as did the seasons. For a time, people and livestock perished in greater numbers than ever, crops and buildings burned, and the entire village lived in a cloud of fear and dread. It was only when they came up with idea of leaving out a sacrificial offering each month that some sort of stalemate was reached. They got into the habit of keeping a single goat, sheep or cow staked to a post at the edge of the village within clear sight of the dragon’s usual approach. After the first few occasions when the beast took both the offering and any additional opportunistic prey he could secure, Qomrirarth gradually began to accept the offering and leave without entering the village. After this, a period of several years passed in state of fragile but seemingly mutually acceptable peace.

In Engar’s dreams he reached the mouth of Qomrirarth’s cave. Secretly he was relieved that for the moment, the need to slay the dragon had been forgotten.

On the first day of Engar’s eighth year of his second decade, Qomrirarth launched an attack on Lemon Arbour the likes of which no one could recall. He appeared without warning, descending with such power and speed from the clouds above that no-one could escape his wrath. Two boys, Frimlar Smeed and Baobub Drax, had been crouched by the edge of the pond skimming stones into the water and didn’t even see him coming. The dragon made it very clear that the unhappy truce was over. Circling overhead with the screaming boys dangling from his talons, he bathed the village in fire, burning the haybarn and the mill keeper’s cottage to the ground and scorching the cornfield to a smoking cinder.

The village was in uproar. Accusations and recriminations flew back and forth. There was much weeping and wailing. Why had they not continued with the quest to find the Dragon Slayer? Why had they been content to accept the false truce? How stupid they had been to think that it would continue? They were not dealing with a reasonable being! They were dealing with a malevolent and evil monster! What were they going to do now? Where was their Dragon Slayer? Where was the one that was fated to slay Qomrirarth? Where was he when they needed him?

Engar, was deeply troubled and plagued with guilt that he had been content that the villagers had not chosen to pursue their goal of destroying the dragon. He sought out the wisdom of Jaquard.

The old man was frail. He eased himself uncomfortably down into the chair by the fire, signaling to Engar to take the other. Engar was nervous. He needed to talk to someone and Jaquard as the only person he could trust. Or so he hoped. He looked at him wondering whether to say what was on his mind. But, above his long white beard, Jaquard’s eyes twinkled with warmth and gracious compassion. Engar relaxed and started to speak.

“Jaquard,” he started. “I need your advice about some dreams and some thoughts I have been having … “

“Yes,” said Jacquard with a knowing smile. “I have been expecting you. I’m surprised it has taken you this long.”

“What do you mean? Do you know … ?”

“About you and Qomrirarth? Of course, I do. You two have been linked from the start.”

“I don’t understand. Linked? Of what do you speak?”

“You know that you and Qomrirarth are one. You know that you dream of him every night. That you admire and respect him. That your destinies are linked. That your fates are bound.”

“No! I don’t! I don’t understand! I don’t know! What does it mean?”

“You will find out in time. When the time is right all will be revealed. But you will not need to wait for much longer, I sense that time is approaching.”

Engar just stared at the ancient man. Afraid to speak and say something he would regret. He was clenching his jaw and his hands were curled into tight fists. He was shaking with anger and frustration. He was furious that Jaquard knew about him and Qomrirarth. Why had he not told him before now? Why had he not helped him? He could have saved him from so much misery and torment. Yet still he did not understand how and why the Dragon and he were bound, and the old man was not going to tell him. He got to his feet and stormed back to the cottage. His parents and sisters were seated at the kitchen table when he burst in through the front door. They looked up at him, startled.

“Engar, what troubles you?” His mother rose and held out a hand to touch him.

He brushed it away and hurried up the stairs.

“Let him be,” said his father. “Today he has become a man and what should have been a day of celebration for him has become a day of great sorrow. He is feeling it. This is all.”

That night, as every night, Engar dreamt of Qomrirarth. But this dream was different. Yes, he moved with the same speed and grace across the vale, through the forest and up the mountain. And yes, he reached the mouth of the cave wherein the dragon lay. But this time, instead of awe and wonder and curiosity, all Engar felt was rage. Rage at what Qomrirarth had done to his village and his people. Rage at the fear and dread he had brought to all their lives for so long. Rage at the pain and suffering the dragon had inflicted on his friends and family. No! However, magnificent, and beautiful Qomrirarth was, it was time for his reign of terror to end. It was time and it was Engar who had to do it.

Engar looked down at his right hand, suddenly aware that in it he held a sword. A heavy Damascan Steel sword. It was a thing of power and beauty with a bright, green, emerald shimmering in the centre of the intricately engraved pommel. It was a sword with which to slay a dragon. The sword with which to slay the bright one. In an instant Engar understood the connection between him and the dragon. They were connected. He did admire and respect the beast. He did appreciate its power and beauty but only because he was the one destined to slay it.

He raised the sword and stepped into the blackness.

The lair was dark and steamy. It smelt of decaying meat and sulfur. It was filled with the sound of the dragon’s breathing. Deep and shuddering and steady. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he gradually made out the shape of the creature against the back wall. Its great bulk was lying in a resting pose. Its glittering scales reflected in a shaft of moonlight that shone in from outside. Its sides rising and falling with every rumbling breath. Qomrirarth was asleep.

Engar approached the creature. He stepped slowly and carefully across the carpet of bones that littered the floor of the cave, lest a crunch of something underfoot should wake the beast. He was tense but he was not afraid. He knew that this was his destiny. He had to see through. He had no other option. Did not want any other option. He had to fulfill his destiny.

As Engar grew near, Qomrirarth opened his bright green eyes, but he did not stir, and his breathing did not alter. As Engar stared deep into these eyes, that were so much like his own, he felt rather than heard Qomrirarth speak to him.

It is time Engar. It is time for us to come together at last. From the day of our birth, we were bonded. Destined for each other. We have lived sperate lives but we are forever joined. We are meant for each other. I am tired of killing and burning. It is time for you to end my reign of fire. It is how it should be. How it must be. Time for us to bond in the way of ways.

When Engar raised his sword to strike, green tears spilled from his eyes.

When Engar awoke in his bed the next morning he felt different. Still in his hand was the Damascan Steel sword, streaked with Qomrirarth’s blood. His feet and hands were caked with mud, his shirt and breeches tattered and torn, and pine needles clung to his hair. Before his sisters stirred, he rose, wiped off the sword, concealed it under his mattress and went to the bathroom to bathe. When he was clean, he looked at himself in the looking glass. His eyes seemed greener than ever. He stretched and yawned and as he opened his mouth a tiny wisp of smoke curled from between his lips. But Engar was not startled. He closed his mouth, smiled, and went back to his cot.

Qomrirarth never visited Lemon Arbour again, as far as they knew.

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Book Review – The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones 

Broodingly terrifying.

I bought this book on the basis of reviews that described it as a “masterpiece”. I’m not sure I agree with that, but it was certainly a dark, disturbing read that I really enjoyed.  

The title is a tragically ironic reference to Theodore Roosevelt’s vile quote “the only good Indians are dead Indians”, and the book is heavy with the prejudice, discrimination, and disadvantage that people of American Indian heritage struggle with on a daily basis in the present-day United States.

The Only Good Indians tells the story of four young American Indian men who massacre a herd of elk. 10 years later they are being stalked by the spirit of one of the animals they killed. The book effectively combines classic horror and suspense with an astute social commentary.

What I liked.

The plot was gripping. It was laden with tension interspersed with abrupt and shocking episodes of bloody violence that you always knew was coming but could never quite predict where and when and to whom.

It was skilfully written – prolonged descriptions of the characters normal lives and backstories were so heavy with suspense that I couldn’t read quick enough for fear of what was going to happen next.

While the supernatural elements were unusual, some might say farfetched, I bought into them one hundred percent. For me, the spirit that hunted the men was merciless and bone chillingly terrifying. I know I will be haunted for some time by the disturbing visual image of the unnatural stalker that the author so vividly creates.

But, as frightened as I was by that spirit, because I understood its motives and its quest, I could not help but feel a strong sense of sorrow and compassion towards it. It was that that evoked a strong emotional response to the book overall. In a sense the “victims” were also the perpetrators, creating a lot of conflict for the reader.

What I didn’t like.

The Only Good Indians was not an easy read. The writing style and the language was hard to understand and required a high level of concentration. I often had to re-read paragraphs or sentences to work out what was going on. Many of the American colloquial references will be lost on an international audience.

I found the lengthy basketball scenes especially challenging and have to admit skimming through some of them.

Overall, a great read that I’d definitely recommend.

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Book Review – Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 

Quietly Disturbing

I enjoyed this book, but it didn’t blow me away the way I was hoping and expecting it to. Isn’t it often the way that whenever you have high expectations of a book or a movie, you build it up in a way it can never possibly deliver, leading to an inevitable degree of disappointment?

The premise, of cloning humans for organ donation, is deep, disturbing, and depressing. The book is light, sad, and also extremely depressing.

What I liked.

It is a thoughtful, easy read.

It feels simple and superficial, but it isn’t at all. The plot, the characters, their conversations, and their actions all sit at the top of a bubbling mass of nightmarish complexity and confusion. I’m not at all sure that even the characters themselves understand what they are feeling and why most of the time. Possibly not any of the time.

The book is heavy with sorrowful metaphors and symbolism, not least in Hailsham itself, which is, both literally and physically, the only family that Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth will ever have, and it too is revealed to be less solid than it first appears.

I liked Kathy and Tommy for their loyalty, naivety, and honesty but not nearly as much as I disliked Ruth for her controlling and manipulative exploitation of them.

I liked the way that because the characters lived such small, unnatural, and sheltered lives they were highly sensitive to little things. Tiny interactions were hugely important and meaningful to them. Small conversations and statements were huge and provoked much angst and analysis and yet they never seemed to address the enormous issues that were staring them in the face every minute of every day.

What I didn’t like.

I really didn’t like Ruth.

I was frustrated by the passive resignation of the characters to their fate. I found myself wondering why Kathy and Tommy didn’t just run away. But I think I also understood that they had been raised and conditioned not to expect anything else from life.

The interaction at the end of the book with Madame and Emily was weird. It was confusing and almost contrived in the way it tried to answer many of the questions that ran through the book. It felt awkward and clunky to me and left me with a lot of unanswered questions still remaining.

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My Green Jumper

My Winning Poem

So last night I won the 54th Solihull Writers Workshop Annual Poetry Competition with my poem My Green Jumper. I was both honoured and astonished to be the recipient of the award as the standard of all the entries was so high.

I have been sharing the news of my success on social media and several people have asked if they could read the poem – so here it is!

I’m not a poet. I think this is the second poem I have ever written as an adult. I was inspired by the current humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and by the thousands of people donating their clothing to help people in need.

My Green Jumper

My green jumper

Old and familiar

Soft and soothing

Warm comfort

Scented with love

Threaded with memories

Sofa snuggles

Cosy cuddles

Winter walks

Kitchen talks

Safe and secure

My green jumper

Tossing and turning

Nestling and glowing

In bags and boxes

By road and rail

Over land and sea

To get to you

Explosions and Gunfire

Fire and Flame

Fear and Heartbreak

Blood and Pain

I cannot touch you, but my green jumper can

Put it against your skin

Let it sooth and calm

Let it warm and comfort

Let it talk to you

About my love

My care

My sorrow

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Book Review – Lightning by Dean Koontz

Mind Boggling

I always find stories about time travel extremely confusing, and Lightning was no exception to this. Half the time I had no idea who was traveling to where and when, or why they were doing so. Nevertheless, my confusion did not spoil my enjoyment of what was essentially a good story. What helped a lot, was Laura’s nine-year-old son Chris’s, exposition about the “paradoxes” of time travel. Whenever I came to a part that was particularly perplexing for my poor old brain to grapple with, I’d just (like the characters) put it down to a time travel paradox and leave it at that.

What I liked.

Lightning is a light, fast-paced, easy read.

It contained some pleasing characters – I particularly liked Laura’s best friend from childhood, Thelma.

I loved the epic-ness of the story that follows Laura’s life from her birth well into adulthood and links in to some real historical events. It also contains some truly audacious plot twists and turns with Stefan meeting some very interesting historical characters and getting involved in some very well-known historical events, in the course of his time travels.

Mr Koontz skilfully created lots of questions and intrigue throughout the first half of the book that compelled me to read on to find out what it was all about.

When the truth was eventually revealed I was not disappointed. So often “big” sci-fi stories like this start well but lead to dissatisfying conclusions.

I liked the way the story shifted between interdependent events occurring in different time zones making some sections very tense and exciting.

What I didn’t like.

As a writer myself, with nowhere near the level of success as Mr Koontz, I was surprised by how “overwritten” the book was. I only mention this because I am constantly trying to avoid falling into this trap myself. I spend many hours poring over my work removing superfluous words and phrases and avoiding telling the reader things that they already know, or that would be perfectly obvious to anyone with a modicum of intelligence. Mr Koontz, on the other hand, frequently over-describes scenes and settings, uses extra words that add nothing to the text, and repeatedly explains things that I already knew. The difference between Mr Koontz and I, I suppose, is that as a writer of some repute, he can get away with it and I can’t.

Sometimes the plot was a tad cheesy and unbelievable. It was very handy and let’s face it, naff and highly unlikely, that two girls who grew up in the care system should both become famous and successful multi-millionaires. It was very convenient that Laura, as part of her research as an author, had learned how to gain access to military standard weaponry and knew how to obtain high quality fake identification documents.

I don’t want to create any spoilers here, and life didn’t work out so well for all the characters, but let’s just say, generally, there was a bit of a “happy-ever-after” feel to the book that left me a little dissatisfied.

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All About Audio

Exploring the world of audiobooks.

The first few months of 2022 have been all about audiobooks for me. When I first published Wait for Me just over a year ago, I had a few enquiries as to whether it was available on audio. I’ll be honest, back then I was just delighted just to have finally published the book and hadn’t even thought abut this. More importantly, I didn’t have a clue where to start.

After I published Trident Edge in October I took a break from novel writing and did a little research on how to go about creating an audiobook. I was daunted and almost gave up a few times. It seemed so complicated and, lets face it, expensive.

However, I kept going and spoke to a few other authors about the different options for an independent author like me. This was how I learned about ACX, Amazon’s audio platform. I’m delighted to say that I discovered it was not only affordable but also accessible to a terrified technophobe on a budget.

It’s as simple as creating an account, selecting one of a few different options depending on your budget, choosing a narrator and uploading your book. I went for the Royalty Share option which allowed me to create an audiobook without spending any money at all. The narrator and I receive 20% of the royalties each and Amazon get the rest. I’ve outlined the process in more detail below.

The upshot of it all is that Wait for Me and Trident Edge are now both available in audiobook formats.

If you are not a member of Audible you can join and purchase the book via this link in the US

and this one in the UK

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ACX Audiobook Process.

Go to ACX.com and create an account and a profile.

Add your book (this pops up automatically if your book is on Amazon).

You will have to upload a square version of your cover.

Submit a script for auditions and submit then sit back and wait.

When the auditions come in select the one you like and make them an offer.

You can communicate with the narrator about any character voices or pronunciations etc.

There is a 15 minute checkpoint for you to make sure you are happy with how it’s going.

Once the narrator has submitted the full recording you get a chance to request any changes before you accept and the book goes live.

Book Review – Billy Summers by Stephen King

Brilliant and Heartbreaking

Billy Summers is a different type of Stephen King book. Not horror. Not supernatural. Not Sci Fi. Not even suspense (although it was certainly tense in parts). Nevertheless, I absolutely loved it and it will undoubtedly occupy my thoughts for weeks and months to come.

As the title suggests, the book is essentially a character study of Billy Summers, an assassin, and tells the story of his life, his motivations, and his last job. It is slow and patient at first (like Billy himself) but gathers momentum as the story progresses. It contains a number of satisfying twists and turns that take the story (and Billy) in new and unexpected directions. It is full of pathos with a thread of deep sorrow running through it. I never wanted it to end.

What I liked.

I loved the characters. Billy is a complex and troubled man but is fundamentally decent and extremely likeable. He had a difficult childhood and is haunted by the traumatic memories of his experiences as a war veteran in Iraq. Alice, who we meet halfway through the book, is adorable and the relationship that develops between them feels exactly right. I also loved Bucky, Billy’s wise old friend and assistant.

I liked the first third of the book when Billy lives undercover in a small American town as he prepares for the “hit” but can’t help getting close to his workmates, and his neighbours and their children. This toe-dip into the normal world is tinged with regret as he knows they will be hurt and disappointed when they inevitably find out who he really is.

I loved the introduction of Alice and the relationship that developed between them in the second third of the story. I wasn’t expecting it and was worried about what it would mean for Billy and his plans, but enjoyed the way things worked out between them.

I liked the final, action packed third of the book, which felt both authentic and believable. If we hadn’t already learned what a calm and capable professional Billy was, his achievements in terms of facing up to different groups of rapists, armed killers, and all-round baddies, might have seemed implausible.

I liked the way Billy started writing as his cover story for the job but how it came to mean much more to him than that, and was ultimately the main way that the reader learned the tragic story of his childhood and the horrors of his time in Iraq.

I liked “dumb” Billy, the persona he adopted to, conversely, maintain the intellectual upper hand with the criminals he worked for.

I loved the veiled reference to The Overlook Hotel, the site of which could be seen from Bucky’s cabin, and the spooky picture in the shack where he writes some of his book.

The book was littered with truisms and subtle current political and ideological references. I loved the little references to the, as yet unknown, pandemic that was about to hit the world.

The quote “Substance abuse goes with talent, you know” really resonated with me.

What I didn’t like.

I didn’t like the way Mr. King almost broke my heart by presenting us with two different endings to the story. One written by Alice on Billy’s behalf, and then the real one that she tells Bucky after Billy’s book is finished.

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Book Review – Adrian’s Undead Diary Omnibus: Volumes 1 and 2 by Chris Philbrook.

Epic!

I have finally got my life back and made a start on tackling some of the other books on my “to be read” list, after finishing the first eight books in the epic zombie apocalypse series Adrian’s Undead Diary.

I came across the author, Chris Philbrook, through the various zombie apocalypse social media groups I am a member of, and decided to give the books a go after being impressed by him when he was the guest speaker on a live Facebook writer’s event I took part in.

The books are largely written in a journalistic style and, as you might expect, tell the story of how a man called Adrian survives and thrives after a global zombie apocalypse. At first glance, Adrian appears to be an outwardly calm and capable, but otherwise remarkably ordinary, ex-military bloke who works nights as a sort of caretaker in a private residential school and lives with his long-term girlfriend, Cassie.

It turns out that our hero is not as “ordinary” as he seems. Not only is he extraordinarily resourceful and resilient, with a remarkable knowledge of guns and ammunition and a, bordering on unhealthy, obsession with recording every minute detail of his daily life during the apocalypse, but he turns out to be a central figure in the battle between good and evil and the survival of what is left of the entire (living) human race itself.

What I liked:

The addictive nature of the story. I literally could not put this down, reading for hours in the early mornings on my kindle in the dark before my husband was awake, and again at night while he was asleep. It disrupted my sleep patterns, my work patterns, my reading patterns, and my life in general. Thank goodness I started reading it in late November on a short holiday to celebrate my birthday, and that the couple of months it took me to get through all eight books included a couple of weeks over the Christmas holidays and a 10-day period of isolation due to Covid.

The journalistic style. The journalistic style was a big part of what made the book so compelling. When Adrian and his people were building up to a big event it was more than I could bear to read the start of each diary entry to find out how it went. Equally, the opening few words of each entry were the first indication of whether anything awful had occurred or not, and I always felt the need to read “just one more” to see how the group were progressing.

Adrian. I really liked (or should I say “like” as his story continues) Adrian. He was (is) a complex but likeable character. He does what has to be done to ensure his own survival, but also tries to help others when he can. He is strong and brave but not without fear. He constantly doubts himself and his decisions and beats himself up over his perceived mistakes. He is funny and irreverent and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is not ashamed or embarrassed to talk about his sexual needs and desires and even about his bowel habits, however disgusting.

The other characters. For a very long time Adrian was the only person in his world. However, other characters are gradually introduced, and we slowly get to know and love them as we see them through Adrian’s eyes. I loved the way they develop and change as they get to grips with their new reality. I particularly liked Abby and Gilbert. I love the patient way that the number of survivors in Bastion and the extended community slowly builds at first from one, to two, and then a small handful, Then, in the last few books, how it increases exponentially to around one hundred people by the end.

The surprises. I liked some of the unexpected plot twists and turns. I actually don’t want to mention them specifically here because, if you do go on to read the books after reading this review, they would be spoilers of monumental proportions. Suffice to say, there were some things that happened and some things that were revealed that I would never have expected in a million years.

The non-journal chapters. The books are peppered with chapters that are not part of Adrian’s diary. While the first one took me by surprise, I came to enjoy them immensely as they provided insight into some of the other characters and their back stories and the plot in general, sometimes giving the reader forewarning of things to come. This contributed to the addictive nature of the read. Once you have read a chapter where something occurs that Adrian does not yet know about, you find yourself rushing through the next few journal entries until the unsuspecting hero catches up. The fact that throughout the books there are things that the reader knows that Adrian does not, is a very effective page-turning and tension building technique.

The level of detail. I was undecided at first whether I liked the excessive amount of tedious and monotonous detail in the books or not. I have come down on the side of “liked” as this is a key component of Adrian’s character and his role in the “Trinity” and the books would not be the same without it. It plays a key part in the complex world building process which enhances reader engagement and immersion and makes the books come alive. Nevertheless, I’m not going to lie and pretend that I didn’t skim over some of the endless accounts of everything they scavenged from all the buildings they raided, and the pages and pages of stocktaking of food and fuel, and don’t even get me started on the guns. Pages and pages and pages devoted to descriptions and pros and cons of different guns and their ammunition, all of which meant absolutely nothing to me.

The big spiritual good versus evil plot element. Somewhere along the road the book gets very spiritual, verging close to religious. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked this, as it is an usual and controversial explanation for the zombie apocalypse. However, it was managed well in my opinion. It didn’t go too far beyond the realms of plausibility – after all, how plausible is a zombie apocalypse in the first place? It was different, interesting, and original and gave the book a very Stephen Kingesque feel at times, almost reminiscent of The Stand.

What I didn’t like.

Repetition. There is not very much that I didn’t like about these books but sometimes the amount of repetition irritated me a little. When something happened in a non-journal chapter, it was often repeated by Adrian in his corresponding journal entry. When I was desperate to find out what happened next in the story, I found myself skimming these sections in frustration. This was linked to the fact that the books are very long. Well, the individual books are probably not very long, but reading all of them in two omnibuses took a long time and there were a lot of pages which involved the detailed accounts of stocktaking and scavenging mentioned above, as well as a fair bit of repetition.

Typos. There were few typos and missing or incorrect words which was a minor irritation and distraction.

The end! I loved the end but was a little dismayed when I realised that Adrian’s story is still not over and that Chris Philbrook is still writing books about what happens to him next. Much as I’d like to, I am reluctant to read any more of them at the moment as there are other things I need to do and other books I want to read!

Adrian’s Undead Diary is at the top of the pile in the independently published zombie apocalypse category, and I would definitely recommend.

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