Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Forever Scary - The Shining Twins

Warning - this post is a bit scary and rather gory.

Still here? Great. Please read on :)

Following on from my book review of Doctor Sleep (The Shining, Book 2) I thought I'd share with you a picture of the twins from the very famous film of The Shining. Don't they look like perfectly nice ladies, which I'm sure they are.

However, I will always see them like this.

What images remain with you, long after you have read them in books, or viewed them in films? Many say the scene of Jack looking at the window whilst Danny and Wendy play in the Overlook's maze is truly scary. It is - you see a man having a mental breakdown on screen. It is amazing cinema.

When I was writing my own horror, Dark Winter, I wanted to feature a demonic ghost girl too, and my 'Dana' looks like this. (Thanks to OS for this image). Dana is not just a ghost, she's a witch, a succubus, a demon, a vampire. Basically not girl-friend material, unless having your guts ripped out are your kind of thing.

Going back to the Twins for a moment, I wonder why it scares me so much. I can recall every detail of seeing them....the wallpaper design around them, the colour of their dresses, the dead eyed look of the one twin, and the half-smile of the other. My take on the scene was the the girl on our right was genuinely scared, and the other girl was thinking 'oh, that's a play-axe...Daddy wouldn't really kill us!'

Regardless of how Dana is, I admire her as a character and I think the story would have been weaker without her. That said...I was in a Subway the other day grabbing a sandwich, and the server was called Dana.

A bit too close to comfort for me. I paid for the sandwich and left. Quickly.

I promise to get back to less gory posts next time! So long as Dana leaves me alone....

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King


People fall into two camps when the conversation turns to Stephen King. Some find his writing a bore, self-indulgent, a mess. Others find his descriptive style and narrative tone engrossing. For me, I find myself sometimes in group one, at other times, in group two. As a youngster, I would buy one book after another of Stephen King's, placing me firmly in group two.

It's not hard to know why. Carrie, The Shining, Salem's Lot, Pet Semetary et cetera were all brilliant books in my view. How can an author strike gold three times with his first three novels? It cannot be all down to luck, can it?

However, I will admit to having seen the film version of The Shining before I read the book, and here's where I encountered a problem. You see, I thought the film was brilliant and utterly terrifying. I can watch it again and again and still feel very scared. It fails to date, even though it should.

The film was criticised by Stephen King, who said it was more Stanley Kubrick's version than his own, and on reading the book, I understood why Stephen King felt that this was not a book-to-screen adaptation.

Too many things are different between the two, but I appreciated the book for what it is, and also the film.
Inbetween the release of the follow-up, Doctor Sleep, there was a Stephen King approved TV movie version of The Shining, but I didn't like it at all,sorry to say.

So I had this book on order for a while, but kept from reading it because I was a bit in Group One regarding his books in recent years. Yes, he could still do it....books like Desperation, and Misery, were high points....others, like Gerald's Game and Hearts in Atlantis were poor offerings indeed.

So I opened the book up and it reminded me of a post I saw recently about FEAR (Forget Everything and Run / Face Everything and Rise), because it says FEAR stands for F*** everything and run!

Typical King. He uses a LOT of profanity, but sometimes, it's really funny when kept in context.

People who have seen the film of The Shining but have not read the book, will be most confused by reading Doctor Sleep, so you really have to read Book One, and that book did set a standard for scares (although I do believe Pet Semetary is the book SK should be remembered for).

I even re-read The Shining prior to finally reading this one and I am glad I did.

The pace is reasonable at the start, and I wondered how Danny would fair as an adult, given all he had gone through as a kid. Two parts of Book One stood out for me - the woman in the bath tub (which scared me more in the book than in the film....if that doesn't seem possible I assure that it is) and the twin sisters who would appear asking Danny to play with them - forever.

Doctor Sleep makes more of an impact through our emotional connection to Danny, Wendy and Dick, although I kind of miss Jack (John) Torrance as a principle character, and it is something I wrestled with when writing my own take on the horror genre.

It starts well, but kicks into high gear about mid-way through the book. Stephen King is back to his best in this story, and it's the best book of his that I have read since 1997's Desperation. I hope he keeps going now. It's very brave to revisit a story so well known, but I think he's just about pulled it off. It is not as good as The Shining, but Dan the adult is an interesting, well rounded character, though there is a generous homage paid to him as a child from the first book.

In a world where writers feel pressured to write trilogies relatively quickly, it's refreshing that Stephen King can take his time to craft a wonderful sequel. The two books are best read together.

I suppose he has the luxury of being an established writer, so much so that there was great excitement about the title of the book, long before it was released.

Where the book failed a bit, was to put the Jack Torrance template, to a large degree, onto Dan as an adult. I felt it was a bit of cop-out to make him an alcoholic, just like his father. It's like SK is saying 'you've got your daddie's genes, so if he downs a litre of bourbon a day, you will too son!'

So I think it was an opportunity missed, because Danny as an adult should have come to terms with the events he had as a child. Of course, we have all had experiences as children that may shape us as an adult, but we should not let those dark elements win. They must know their place - and we should put them in their place.

It's like the adult Dan totally gave into it, and in this regard, Doctor Sleep fails in the scare factor, whereas The Shining hit them out of the park time and again.

It's a good to almost great book. If The Shining didn't exist, in a weird way, this book would be higher rated in my view.

So it's good - very good - and worth reading. Just forget (to some extent) all about The Shining and you'll enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

What Happens When A Second-Hand Book-Store Is Supported by the Local Community

As much as I have grown to like e-books, there's clearly a slightly dark side to it. As I reported earlier, books can be pirated all too easily, which is a disgusting practise. Fortunately, many decent people still buy through legal channels and support writers, many of whom struggle to make it as a career.

What of the more traditional outlets then? In the news story below, the shop owner let people know of his dwindling profits, and via Facebook no less! It shows that the local communities do play a big part in keeping shops like these open.

Perhaps he needs to become a more up to date shop, but it is difficult when there are so many titles out there, and yes...the internet makes it easy to buy.

But I must say that my own shopping experience showed that the internet and how we buy things now was just waiting to happen. I could often go in any bookstore, record shop, and so on, only to ask for a given item, only to be told 'oh, we don't have that in stock.'

It's lazy at best, poor customer service at worst. Amazon have just simplified the supply-chain process.

All the same, I'm happy for this shop owner, as nothing beats browsing through books...the internet just doesn't have the same charm for me!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Book Review: Rebecca's World by Terry Nation


This book has the distinction of being the first book I ever loaned at the library. It stood out because it was one of those in a rack, not a shelf, and although it had the promotional strapline of 'by Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks', I wondered if I had not stumbled upon the wrong kind of book.

(I was never a Doctor Who fan and the current mania about it still hasn't swayed me, but anyway....)

The book is simply told, but has engaging characters and a plot which makes you want to keep going to see what happens next.

I was eight years old when first reading this, and now, I must have completed it for the umpteenth time, it's a book that, despite its age, never gets old.

Rebecca is bored. Rebecca is not allowed to go up to one of the rooms in the house 'because her father keeps expensive equipment there.' Quite why Rebecca appears to be on her own is uncertain, but she takes her chance and goes in the room anyway.

There's a telescope there, much bigger than Rebecca herself, and she peers through it, and becomes fixated on this one star. As she looks, the star gets closer, and suddenly, she finds herself transported out of the room, onto this planet, the 'World' of the title.

It's easy to see why it's called Rebecca's World. She is one hell of a confident eight year old, and goes from adventure to adventure without losing her mind. Initially, when she finds herself in the room with some mad scientist (aren't they all, but then, without them, where would we be?!) who is very cross with her and informs her that he won't be able to send her home, Rebecca cries. A lot. This makes the scientist even more mad and cross with her, so she is forced out of his lab until such time as he can find a way to send her home.

Along the way, Rebecca meets Grisby, a man who wears more than one overcoat (I counted four at one point) and owns the 'most painful feet in the universe.' Kovak is a spy who, despite his many disguises, everyone can tell it is him. Finally, there's Captain 'K', who owns the only GHOST stick in the world.

Oh. So finally, a plot! 

It turns out that a very nasty man, Mister Glister, is the richest man in this world, and as he explains to our heroine most seriously, 'I've made it my life's work to make everyone poor', and he has done it by burning all the trees down in the world to feed his industry and make himself rich. Some of the shelters from the said GHOSTS are made of the wood from these trees, but given Mister Glister's over the top approach to construction, there stands only one tree in this world, and it is guarded by the GHOSTS.

Captain 'K', however, owns a GHOST stick...a weedy twig, really, but one zap / kerpow / thunk in the direction of a GHOST, they 'pop' and disappear. hence why Mister Glister would like to have it for himself.

Rebecca and her new friends hatch a plan to get the map to this last tree (in Mister Glister's possession) to save the people of the world, and Rebecca hopes by then that she would find a way back home.

This is where the book really kicks off and we meet all manner of nasties, the Silkies, the Bad Habits, the Tongue Twister Monster.

If you haven't read this story, you really should. Rebecca seems more grown up than most eight year olds, which makes the plot (reading as an adult) more believeable.

Do I ask too much from a children's book? Probably. But this remains one of the best examples of a simple story executed brilliantly. 

Seek out a copy and enjoy it!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Writer's 'Red Shirt' Syndrome...How Do You Ensure That None of Your Characters are Redundant?

Anyone who watches Star Trek (especially in the original series) will know that anyone wearing a red shirt was basically expendable. Despite the many dangers Captain Kirk and the others faced, it was inconceivable that they would actually die (which makes Kirk's exit in 'Generations' all the more annoying).

Red shirts, on the other hand, were The Expendables long before Sly Stallone coined the name for his films.

As writers, we have to guard against creating our own Expendables. Okay, in some stories, like thrillers, or murder mysteries, someone has to die. Already, this character is an expendable...he or she is redundant.

Or are they?

The best example I can think of an Expendable (note, NOT redundant) is in this book, the superlative 'Rebecca' by Daphne du Maurier


How many stories do you know of that have already killed off their main character? Or if you do, how many do it as well as 'Rebecca'?

One of my other favourite authors, Stephen King, can either write tonnes of expendable (and sorry to say, forgettable) characters like in Needful Things, or can focus on just a handful, and do it brilliantly, as in Misery.

Any which way we cut it....if you are a reader and are then told 'and then Mikey died...' you might feel cheated. After all, did we care about Mikey enough to have some feeling about his death? No? Then the writer did not build his story up enough.

If we knew that Mikey had been orphaned because his parents had been murdered, if we knew that he had been put into social care because he had no other family....if we knew he had found love, lost it, and found it again (or that the love of his life actually killed him)...we would care, wouldn't we?

But some characters get a line or two of introduction in an 800 page story, and before you can say ' have to GO'...they're gone. Have you read books like that? How did you feel when you read that? If it was 'okay, I forgot who Mikey was because he hasn't been mentioned since page 142', then I think the author has overlooked a very important thing.

Sometimes, we read a book and watch a film just for the ride....I'm talking 007, Rocky, any Doctor Who episode. Will anything fatal befall the main characters? Really? Unlikely. So where's the drama? If no-one is at risk - no-one that we care that we care about that the author has created, then basically, all you can do is enjoy the ride.

But creating swathes of expendable characters is not good. It is not good 'filler' for a story.

You can create a sword wielding goon, for instance, if it is possible he or she can kill the main character. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, there was originally a long fight scene between Indy and the sword guy. But the final script was that Indy just shoots him! Is it funny? In this context, sure....but do you recall the character? We remember him, because of his part in the movie. We don't need to know his name or anything else. In a film like this, it is a good use of an Expendable. As writers, we are not afforded the same luxury, and our Expendables have to be better drawn.

We cannot simply  introduce someone, give them a name, describe their looks and their basic motivations in a paragraph, only to drop them off the radar, only to bring them back near the end of the book to create some drama. And then, they realise that they were an expendable character.

I got the same reaction from someone who watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but who hadn't read the book.

"Why does Cedric die?" he said.
"So he can turn up in the next Twilight film, I suppose," was my reply.

His point was (even though others watching the film had read the book) that to a viewer, Ced was an expendable....he is hardly in the film version of GoF (by far the worst HP film I believe).

Mike Newell may as well have gone and put Cedric in a red shirt, for all the screen time he got. I know he dies in the book, but the film took the assumption that everyone had read the book.


So, one of things I try my hardest to do is create characters that readers will have some feeling about. If you don't care about the main characters, you will care even less about the supporting cast. Going back to Star Trek, and specifically, to Deep Space Nine, one of the strengths of that show was an amazing array of supporting characters, who would turn up every other episode.

Hate the show if you must...but what can't be denied is that it had great characterisation, and (save for two characters which I genuinely hated!) these characters gave a sometimes lightweight script, increased gravitas.

So unless your Expendable is 'Thug Number Two,' remember that all your characters must be relevant.

Happy reading and writing!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Let's Try and end Piracy forever!

Hi all, and a very happy 2014 to you.

I'm sorry to say that some (of my) books continue to appear on pirate websites. Fortunately, Amazon do tend to let you know.

What I would like to say to authors who are getting 'pinched', do contact Amazon or the relevant book seller.

Threatening the pirate sites, even if you are able too, seems to have little effect. All the same, we must keep trying.

I would not even worry about this if I had made some return from the book (s), and in some cases these sites host famous authors who have indeed made their money.

That in itself don't make it right. I think people that do this are the very lowest kind of people.

Anyway, this is the sort of thing Amazon writes to you. I think it is good that Amazon do this, because it helps authors take action.

Do contact Amazon for assistance, because your book may be removed from their special platforms (like KDP Select, KOLL) and it is not fair that authors get punished for this.

I wish you all a successful and piracy-free 2014.



We found the following book(s) you've published doesn’t meet the KDP Select content guidelines because it is available in digital format on another platform. Books enrolled in KDP Select must be exclusive to Amazon in digital format during the entirety of their enrollment in the program.

Dark Winter (ID: B00G559BB8) is available on: (I have removed the link as I do not want to give this website ANY promoition).

You may need to copy and paste the entire URL above into your web browser to see where we found your book. You can also do an online search for your book to discover where else it may be available.

In order for your book to remain in the KDP Select program, we'll need you to ensure that it is exclusive to Amazon within 5 days from the date of this email. If, after this 5-day period, your book is still not exclusive to Amazon, it will remain for sale in the Kindle Store but will be removed from KDP Select. Upon its removal, your book will no longer be eligible to earn a share of the KDP Select fund.

Please note that violations of the program’s exclusivity requirement may result in loss of KDP Select benefits, including participation in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) and the usage of Kindle Countdown Deals or free promotion days. To ensure KDP Select benefits are not revoked, please be sure that all of your KDP Select-enrolled books are exclusive to Amazon in digital format at the time of enrollment.

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