Review of Chasing Cloud

28 Apr

Chasing Cloud is a novel by David M. Smith available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon. Subtitled ‘A Tarxian Novel’, you may imagine it is a fantasy novel, but, while it may well appeal to fans of fictional worlds, it’s actually set in ancient Malta during the Copper Age (although Smith, naturally, has had to be inventive with the minimal evidence available).

Chasing Cloud

The priest Lamaxe finds his life disrupted by the disappearance of his childhood friend, his burgeoning relation ship with a sculptress working on the temple, and a mission to bring back an idol of their goddess to enhance the temple’s standing, requiring him to leave the island. The search for the missing girl, the titular Cloud, and the journey to Sicily to explore a different culture, drawing upon what little is known through archaeology and extrapolating convincingly.

The mystery of Cloud’s disappearance is an effective plot that both provides the skeleton upon which to hang other adventures, such as encounters with pirates, and leads to a showdown of its own, one that will change Lamaxe’s life forever.

Smith has produced a fine novel that will appeal to fans of historical fiction, mysteries and, quite probably, fantasy fans in search of something a bit different, although it is relentlessly mundane in nature. It has an accessible ‘young adult’ feel to it, without compromising on the setting. About the only potential flaws are that it was a little slow to get going, which may put off those readers who have to be constantly stimulated with action, and there is a little sex (neither graphic nor out of place) that prudish readers may be uncomfortable with, as well as references to animal sacrifice that, while not particularly gory, may be off-putting to those who find the thought of any harm coming to animals unpalatable.

Those minor caveats aside, Chasing Cloud is an enjoyable read, unusual and intriguing, that I’d definitely recommend.

Locum Who?

8 Feb

Peter Capaldi is going and it’s time to find a locum to fill the famous Doctor’s shoes…

Along with a black James Bond, a female Doctor Who with a male companion is the most common ‘politically-correct’ change to an established character that crops up. I’ve advocated a black Doctor in the past – not for any reason other than because there have been some excellent black actors who would be perfect for the role. But, a female Doctor wouldn’t sit right with me.

Let’s tackle the male companion first. There’s no reason a male Doctor cannot have a male companion. In the first half of the original series, there usually was a mixture of male and female companions, and often of age. By the end of the original series, there was usually only one companion, who was female and this has been common since the revival. While it originally arose from the idea that a ‘bit of totty’ would attract the dads, I think the reason it was retained was because, especially with the example of the final original-series companion, Ace, a strong female companion made a good counterpoint to the male Doctor. But, there’s no reason why the companion must always be female, young, or in the singular. The companions offer plenty of opportunity to mix things up.

But, the Doctor is a constant.

Of course, we’ve had a female incarnation of the Master (‘Missy’), but that twist worked because the Master has a history of running out of regenerations, stealing bodies and meddling with his biodata. That he would transform into a woman is almost a logical outcome of his adventures in identity. Yes, the Doctor has run through his regenerations quickly and seems to have messed with his biodata, but not to the same extent – and making gender a choice raises all sorts of questions of why he always chose to be male before, but has changed his mind now.

But, more than my feeling that it doesn’t really fit in with the established continuity of the series, is my view that the demand for a female Doctor is horribly sexist. There’s no need for the Doctor as a female role model – if people wanted a female Timelord, why not produce a series featuring Romana? – while the Doctor represents a male character who doesn’t pander to typical male stereotypes. He’s rarely violent, he’s intelligent, academic and quirky, he’s tolerant and kind. In a world where too many male role models are the opposite, he’s a welcome alternative.

Introduce a Romana series, by all means (after all, The Sarah Jane Adventures were excellent), but don’t deprive boys of the wonderful role model who is the Doctor.

Worst Witch review

13 Jan

19 years ago, ITV produced a series based on the Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy (providing the now-famous Felicity Jones with one of her first acting roles). Now, the BBC is making its own series based upon the misadventures of Mildred Hubble (first chronicled in print way back in 1974). A tough act to follow!

The 53-minute opening episode of the series (officially episodes one and two, rolled into one) is currently available to view on BBC iPlayer. As a fan of the Worst Witch in all its formats, I was interested to see how this adaptation fared.

The opening seems to be aping Harry Potter, to the extent that Maud (who seems far more clumsy than Mildred in this version) broke her glasses and had them magically mended. However, Mildred’s briefly-shown towerblock home-life doesn’t exactly  compare to Harry’s awful childhood and the introduction of a masquerade (never explicitly stated in earlier versions) didn’t really add anything to the story.

Mildred and Maud were passable – I did think Mildred looked more like Tracy Beaker than Mildred Hubble, although she grew on me towards the end – but Ethel was spot on. Hardbroom and Cackle were both good, although they didn’t manage to eclipse the portrayals of the characters in the ITV series. Overall, the acting was somewhat variable, although stronger towards the finale, and, while the visual presentation was good, the episode itself was somewhat uneven in tone, especially as it seemed to be trying to present the setting more seriously, yet veered sharply into humour at times. However, it is likely that the players will settle into their roles and the tone of the series stabilise as time goes on, so hopefully these are temporary niggles – and, not too serious ones, at that, if I’m honest.

Given that the plot of the first book was used as the plot of the Worst Witch movie, in addition to the opening episodes of the ITV series, the BBC bravely chose not to rehash it for a third time. Instead, they distinguished their version by crafting (pun intended) an original opening that loosely drew upon Agatha Cackle’s plot (in the book) to take over Cackle’s Academy from her sister. It’s possible purists might not be happy about it, but it works well enough and offers something new to those of us who’ve seen previous versions on the screen, without diverging too far from the source material.

Overall, it does a passable job of relaunching the Worst Witch for a new generation and I’m certainly going to watch future episodes to see how it develops, although I doubt it will displace the ITV series from my affections. Of course, while it will inevitably be compared to the versions that came before, it really isn’t for an adult to judge it. The real test is whether kids, who are probably unaware of the ITV and film adaptations, respond to it. I suspect it will win fans. For parents who might be wondering whether they should encourage their children to watch it, I can say that this first instalment presents no reason not to and is likely to entertain them. Definitely recommended!

It’s Christmaaasss!

16 Dec

Yes, it’s the festive season and writers’ thoughts are turning to snow, decorations and Dickensian ghostliness. The problem is, if you’re writing a story or poem now, it’s too late to submit to an editor. Indeed, even if you submitted work in the last two or three months, it was probably too late.

Draw inspiration now, but you need to know when it’s best to submit your work (indeed, the same goes for other festivals, seasons and anniversaries – often you will need to submit three months to a year early). Most editors will want to receive submissions by September at the latest, some will want it by June. A few will want festive submissions as early as January or February. Keep an eye on their deadlines, but if a magazine doesn’t have a specific festive issue, look for ones planned for release in November or December and consider submitting something festive that fits with their theme.

As far as Atlantean Publishing goes, our primary festive publications are Christmas Chillers and Xmas Bards and I want submissions by October at the latest. Festive issues of Garbaj and Bard sometimes appear – based upon whether I’ve had sufficient submissions to warrant it – and the second Monomyth of the year is usually late enough that festive submissions will be considered. Likewise, there is an annual horror poetry booklet release for Hallowe’en and there are often issues of Bard (and sometimes Garbaj) that reference the seasons, Valentine’s Day, Hallowe’en, etc; I need to receive submissions at least a couple of months in advance.

So, put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) and produce something seasonal and send it to Atlantean or another publisher when the time is right!

Where To Start?

7 Nov

“Where do I start my story?” must be the question writers most frequently ask, whether of others or themselves, yet it is impossible to answer, except with the vague suggestion to start with action. Not, of course, that you cannot start with a description or witty observation, but they will need to be very arresting to seize the readers’ attention.

Action, though, is a little misleading. People tend to assume action must be spectacular, a murder or an explosion, but even in a thriller, that isn’t necessarily so. Action can be low-key, too. Even in the case of an explosion, it isn’t necessary to start with the bang – you could begin with the bomb being planted or even a couple arguing only to be interrupted by this sudden blast: All that matters is that the reader is hooked. You could even cheat a little – rather than the main murder, you could begin with the killer offing an accomplice whose death will remain unknown to the investigators for some or all of the story.

Short stories and, especially flash fiction, are easier than novels as they usually consist of a single scene or a few closely-linked scenes: Begin at the beginning and continue till the end. In a novel, not only do you have multiple scenes to choose from, with the complication of flashbacks, flashforwards and subplots, but you need to maintain and build tension over a much longer span. A really powerful piece of action might make a great opening, but could leave the reader underwhelmed by what follows if you’re not careful.

Let’s imagine a murder mystery: Two friends have an argument, which leads to one being murdered; after the funeral, at the reading of the will, a discovery is made that reveals they were murdered and prompts an investigation. Now, ignoring other tricks, like starting with the ending or the murder of an accomplice, where do we begin?

We could ‘begin at the beginning’ – but, where does the story begin? The start of the investigation, or perhaps more effectively, the revelation at the will-reading, would work. Or, how about at the funeral, as a lead-in to the discovery, perhaps with some foreshadowing of the revelation? Or, we could start with some real action: the murder itself. Or, we could begin with the argument that sets events in motion.

But, those aren’t the only options. The story could begin with the aftermath of the murder or some way into the investigation. Equally, the story could begin between the argument and the murder. Or, we could start well before the argument by inventing some other event, probably a piece of fairly low-key action, for the opening paragraph, and then developing the characters and the reasons why they argue. That’s nine alternatives before we even consider anything sneakier.

But, which one do you pick? That’s up to you – you decide which one appeals the most.

HP Lovecraft made a point of creating timelines of events in his stories so that, no matter where he began the narrative and regardless of the order in which events unfolded on the page, he knew the actual order they occurred in, who was where, etc. Even if you’re not much of a planner, a loose outline of the early parts of your story can be a good way of identifying potential starting points.

Indeed, you could take this a step further and write your story in chronological order from the earliest relevant event, before going back and deciding where to begin the finished story. This might involve cutting some text, perhaps recycling some as backstory, or it could be relocated to serve as flashbacks; or you could move something back to serve as a flashforward. You will probably need to do some rewriting to cover excised details that are important to the plot and to make the new opening work properly as an introduction (you may, for example, find the descriptions of key characters are in earlier, deleted sections), but this is likely to be far easier than staring at a blank page, trying to envisage how to start.

Remember, once you reach the end, you can always rewrite your beginning. So, don’t worry too much. Get started, get writing and you’ll get there eventually.

Free ezines!

28 Oct

Everybody likes something for nothing, and sometimes the free stuff is actually worth something, like these three…

Download Sirens Call ezine – download pdfs of this horror fiction and poetry ezine for free. A new issue has just been released for Hallowe’en.

Tigershark ezine website – request your pdfs of this themed fiction and poetry ezine by emailing tigersharkpublishing@hotmail.co.uk . A new issue will be available for request on Hallowe’en, stocked with horror.

Read Bad Apple webzine and read the young adult fiction online.

In addition, remember that you can request recent issues of The Supplement and Awen in pdf by emailing atlanteanpublishing@hotmail.com and can read back issues of Awen Online online (the webzine is currently on hiatus).

Try something different…

3 Oct

Looking for something different to read? Well, October is Black Speculative Fiction month. You could even win a prize! Lots of events going on in America, but even if you’re on this side of the Pond, you can still follow the links to some fascinating sites or get the special horror-themed issue of Black Girl Magic (out on the 15th).

black-spec-fic-month