Monday, 18 May 2015

New today! Revised, and with additional chapters: 'The Undertaker's Son'

One of the beautiful things about publishing your work on Kindle is that it is possible to re-publish at any time.

I'm not talking about cutting corners in the first place, knowing that you can fix mistakes later.  That would be counter-productive in so many ways.  The process of writing a novel is many-layered and, at times, crushingly dull.  When the fifth draft has been approved by beta readers, sent to a professional editor, edited and revised, there is formatting, proofreading and, inevitably, a final reading (or two) by the author, just to make sure everything is as it should be.

So why would I re-publish a novel that took the best part of a year to bring to Kindle readers the first time around?

Well, there are two reasons.  The first is that I have (surely?) improved as a writer over the past eighteen months, so back in March when I spent an afternoon re-reading 'The Undertaker's Son' because I had nothing else to read at the time, I noticed things I didn't like.  Once I'd finished, I had various ideas that would not disappear until I'd explored them fully.  Should I add another chapter about Claude Cousteau?  Did I like the ending enough?

Two months later, having taken a lot longer than I imagined (fellow authors will know that this is not unusual), and having gone through the same stages of checking and double-checking as I did with the original version, I pushed the 'publish' button.  A few hours have elapsed, and I have just received an email from Amazon to say that my new edition is 'live'.  I've checked it again (obviously) and it looks fine.

Oh, I said there were two reasons, didn't I?  The second is that I want to bring out a paperback later this month.  I still like to hold a physical book in my hands, and I want it to be absolutely perfect, if it can be (probably not possible in the real world...but I have to give it a go!).

Anyway, if you have already bought 'The Undertaker's Son', Amazon will send you the updated version free of charge - you just have to ask.  And thank you for buying it in the first place!

If, however, you think you might like to read the description and/or the first chapters, just click here:

And thank you for looking.  No, really!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Review - The Ways of Mud and Bone by Carrie Ann Lahain

I loved the title and was intrigued by the subject matter: An American point of view on the struggle of the allies during the Great War. Lahain paints a picture of an American community divided by politics, neighbour set against neighbour, with violence never far beneath the surface. Add to this the outbreak of influenza which strikes without discrimination, and you have a small town in meltdown.

France seems almost like an adventure to Meryl, her sister and her friends. She is inspired by a desire to care for the casualties of war and sets off for the front to do what she can. Needless to say, the reality of battle is a shock to the volunteers, even though they believe themselves to be ready for such a challenge. Meryl struggles with the consequences of a world turned upside down, which will never be the same again. She is sensitive and intelligent, unsentimental and pragmatic. Relationships in this novel are subtle, understated. We have to read between the lines, sense the meaning of simple gestures. But against the horrific backdrop of chaos and death, in action scenes that are all too realistic, there is still room for hope.

I read a little everyday, often sneaking off to find out what happened next, wanting a sliver more to mull over. I held the dwindling pages (I bought the book, but I see it is available on Kindle too), and wished that Meryl’s story could continue. Highly recommended – a literary gem.

I see that the Kindle version is only 99p for the next few days.  Not to be missed, I say!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.

I’ve read everything by this author (except The Bone Clocks, which is on my list), and so I knew that I would have to have my wits about me with this most ambitious work.  (I’m still trying to come to terms with all the intricacies of Cloud Atlas, a most epic piece of writing, which I have read twice and will probably read again at some point.)

The setting for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is Japan, which is a place Mitchell goes back to time and time again, having lived there with his Japanese wife before eventually settling in Ireland.  This time we are sailing into Nagasaki harbour to rendezvous at Dejima, a small trading post. We arrive on a Dutch ship at the end of the 18th century.  International trade between Japan and the rest of the world is limited. 

Our understated protagonist, Jacob de Zoet, is an honest man, a trader employed by the Dutch East India Company who is given the task of validating the accounts concerning the merchandising of goods in Dejima.  He soon finds himself amongst liars and thieves, eager to influence him in any way they can.  At first, de Zoet seems na├»ve, but he bides his time and does not stumble into the traps that are set for him. 

Love is a central theme, too.  Realism is the order of the day, but romance often bubbles up to inspire us.  Jacob talks about a girl he has left behind, and obsesses about a midwife he meets in Dejima during a hilarious set-to with a chimpanzee called William Pitt. 

The plot is intricate, the characters many and complex – far more than seems necessary at first.  But, please, persevere – it’s worth it!  Mitchell involves every level of society, with a Shakespearean eye for detail. The dialogue is ubiquitous and complicatedly Pinteresque, peppered with asides and minute observations that give an immediate sense of place or emotional insight. There is horror, murder, betrayal and double-dealing.  There is humour when you least expect it, often in the form of farce and, more often than not, involving William Pitt, who is there at the beginning and still around at the end of this epic adventure.

When I came to the final pages, I’ll admit that I thrilled at the idea of a momentous conclusion.  Time slowed as I devoured each word, not wanting my enjoyment to end, imagining scenarios that I suspected were too cliched for a Mitchell masterpiece.  What happens?  Ah, you wouldn’t want me to tell you, would you?  Suffice to say, if you love literary genius, you won’t be disappointed.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Writing Psychological Drama

'I love things that leave room to dream and are open to various interpretations.' David Lynch

Think you know me?

People do the strangest things, don't they?

You live in a street for years and then, suddenly, you watch the arrival of a police car and see your neighbour being cuffed and escorted to the back seat, police hand on head, quiet as a lamb, while his wife stands on the driveway crying and his older son screams that he'll cut off his father's balls for what he's done to his younger brother.

This is the same man who borrowed your lawn mower and cleaned it carefully before returning it; the same man who planted out a Christmas tree for next year; the same man who polished his car every Sunday afternoon, listening to R.E.M. on his in-car sound system.

It's probably not a great idea to wonder too much about what lies behind the eyes of the people you know.  Except, that is, if you write books.  Books about real people.  Books that delve into the psychology of an ordinary human being and come up with aspects that might not be all that admirable or even desirable.

What is an ordinary person, anyway? Someone who goes to college, gets a job, marries a man who loves her and lives in his beautiful house? Maybe.

Think you know her?  Think you know what she is capable of?  Of course you do.  There are no thoughts she has had that are new.

In literature, what it boils down to is genre.  Is this character going to fall in love and live happily ever after?  Is she going to overcome an incredible obstacle and save herself/her loved ones/the world?  Is she going to batter her husband with a leg of lamb and serve the murder weapon, roasted, to the police? (Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl).  Is she going to make us laugh?  Make us cry? Scare us half to death?

The point is that we don't know what's going to happen.  In dark psychological drama, we know there is something awful that is going to be exposed at some point.  We imagine what it might be. Sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong.  That's the fun of it. We are rarely happy, though, if the plot is too obvious.  We like our twists and turns.

Although the following quote is related to scene setting, I think it also applies to unravelling the hidden psychology of a character.  

"To me a mystery is like a magnet.  Whenever there is something that's unknown, it has a pull to it.  For instance, if you were in a room and there was a doorway open and stairs going down and the light just fell away, you didn't even see the bottom, where the stairs ended, you'd be very much tempted to go down there."  David Lynch

We want to find out what the protagonist is really like, so we allow ourselves to be lured.

Of course, characters from literature are not the same as real people.  How can they be?  We know something about them, but detail can never be comprehensive.  Perhaps we are told that the protagonist has had a difficult life, a privileged existence, or a sublime childhood.  We are fed information that will create interest.  We fill in the gaps.  And, when we are reading a psychological drama, we make value judgements.  Oh, we can't help it! The protagonist's actions, her thoughts and decisions are fair game.  Usually, we want to like her, to admire her, to see her get through.  But she must not behave badly all the time if she wants us to travel with her and hold her hand.

My neighbour didn't say much when they took him away.  He didn't look at his wife, or his son. But, as the police car pulled away, he looked at me and I saw, just for a moment, into his black heart. Everything I'd thought I'd known about him was re-written in that split second.  He was evil. He would be punished, and rightly so.  There could be no mitigating circumstances for his actions. I had made my judgement.

If his story were told, we would despise his crime.  If he were a character in a book, we would search for empathy until we finally discovered what he'd done.  There are people who would be able to forgive him and there are people who would not.  One thing is certain, though, most of us would be fascinated to know how an ordinary man, a neighbour who was just like everyone else in the street, could have turned out to be such a monster.

“I have a feeling that inside you somewhere, there's somebody nobody knows about.” Alfred Hitchcock

Alex Crane, the protagonist in My Grandfather's Eyes, is a complicated woman.  Most of the people who have reviewed this book have found little to admire in her.  They have filled in the gaps and made their judgements.  But they have found both Alex and her story fascinating.  

Psychological drama is one of my favourite genres.  I'd love to see Alex on the big screen, lit at an unexpected angle, semi-hidden from view, inviting us to follow her through the open door, down the stairs to where the light fades.  How much would she show us?  And how much would she hold back?

That would depend on the reader, don't you think?

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Review - Bus Pass Holiday by Karenne Griffin

Like many people, I spent a lot of time holidaying in Wales when I was a child and so I was delighted to recognise some of the places Karenne visited on her bus pass holiday. The concept of travelling around for free (although we learn that this is not always possible) is bound to be popular with most people, but I must say I was much happier reading about her adventures than actually going on the trip myself. Buses are not my favourite form of transport, I suppose.

Karenne Griffin is a thoroughly intrepid pensioner, who seems more like a teenager at times. The trip is fun and includes a lot of local detail and wry observations. It's an easy, interesting read and I get the impression there will be more. Where to next, I wonder? 

Just click the link below to read the opening pages.  Happy holidays!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A Free Short Story and a Bargain Full-length Novel

Hanson's Hunch 

A five-star review from top Amazon reviewer C. Lahain:

A detective tries to solve a series of murders where the victims have no obvious relationship to one another.

This is a short, suspenseful work. Spicer packs a lot of character and action into it. The motive behind the killings isn't something I've seen before. Detective Hanson remains something of an enigma throughout the piece. We get the sense of a complicated and gifted intellect, and the tiny peek into his home life hints at an abundance of warmth buried under the all-business exterior. I would have loved even more of this personal side as a contrast to the nightmare going on around them.

The end comes as a big surprise. I'm still not sure how I feel about it...very mixed emotions for reasons anyone who reads it will understand. However, this resolution did add a nice splash of dark humor.

Free until 30th March

My Grandfather's Eyes 

With an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars for 25 reviews, this is a book that you can get your teeth into. 

Here's what reviewers say:

'The protagonist in this novel is Alex Crane who must surely be a contender for one of the most selfish, self-centred and egotistical characters of twenty first century fiction so far. Even though she is such an unpleasant character her story is completely riveting and you become totally absorbed in her life.'

‘My Grandfather’s Eyes is an adult, psychological suspense story, written in a masterful, unforced style by an author who writes powerfully about the hidden desires human beings may harbour, despite their unattainability. For me, it was difficult to get into initially, probably because I was hung up on the author’s previous work and expecting a few wry sitcom moments, but I’m glad I persisted – it is a wonderful work of readable ‘literature’ and a terrific achievement. It deserves every one of the five stars I have no hesitation in awarding. I hope the author writes more works with the same insights into human nature.'

'A much darker tale than Bunny on a Bike, this tale shows a different facet of Bev's skill as a writer. Wonderful use of language! And complex relationships described in detail. The main character Alex had large moles on her face and this made her more real to me as I am not enamoured of cliched, excessively beautiful characters. An excellent read that kept me transfixed to the end.'

Just 99p/99c until 28th March

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

My French Life - Buying the house of our dreams...argh!

  (If you would like to read previous posts, please go to My French Life.)

So, the house of our dreams was going to be in up-market Corme Royal, with its very own 12th century church.  Around seven miles from where we were staying in our rented gite.  Little did I realise that finding a house was only the first step in a long, and incredibly boring process, fraught with traps for gormless hippy-types whose French was still a little rusty and whose life experience had been, thus far, as pleasant as a tranquil scene from a Wordsworth poem. Twiddle dee, twiddle dum.

The square in Corme Royal - very posh!

However, undaunted by the huge problems we were yet to discover...we made a semi-confident offer slightly below the asking price, which was promptly rejected.  “Yes,” said Anna, our costly estate agent (10%!!), the house is over priced, “but Mme X has no need to sell quickly, if at all…”

It turned out that the house had, in fact, been on the market for four years, in which time Mme X had received one (derogatory) offer.  One offer in four years!  So, with the logic of French property sales going over our heads once again, we upped our offer as much as we could, whilst nervously watching the exchange rate steadily descend.


To cut a (very) long story short, in the end we agreed a price that would just about cripple us financially, and (more frightening still) stretch our largely fictional mortgage application to breaking point.  All for the incomparable delight of sitting in an overly spacious office, with an overly important notaire, who treated us to a heart-felt rendition of the forty-page document detailing everything from our full names, date of birth and shoe size, to the terms and conditions surrounding various guarantees against termites, building integrity and the presence of lead and asbestos.  


It was at this point, perched on the edge of our chairs and on the brink of despair, that several worrying as yet unmentioned ‘minutiae’ were uncovered:  The roof was asbestos (but, apparently, not the ‘dangerous’ type), the wall in the bouanderie was asbestos, too (type not specified).  Some of the paint used in the house was so laden with lead that we were advised to remove it only whilst wearing protective clothing and quality breathing equipment, and to ensure that our children didn’t inhale for a month after such removal.  Also, (a minor point) we learned that our toilet was not connected to the mains, but rather functioned via a ‘fosse etanche’ which was situated under the bathroom and which, according to Mme. X was a state-of-the-art system, and which, according to the notaire, was technically illegal, unless we had specifically agreed to not having it changed and brought up to the ‘norme’.  


There was a pause in the proceedings, which had my husband and I thinking about backing out of the whole deal.  Especially when we had also learned that the clause I’d asked for in the agreement which ensured that the house would be left to the surviving spouse in the event of extreme misfortune (and not immediately divided up between the snapping children), had been omitted!

Mon Dieu!

In the end, being irrepressibly optimistic and a tad gullible, we signed on an infinite number of dotted lines and hoped for the best.  

Mme X looked smug and Mr. X seemed delighted.  

“It’ll be fine!” said Al.
“I love you,” I replied.

 Much more fun than buying a house!

For better or for worse, the house was ours.  What next?  Oh, yes.  We needed to rewire it. “How does 14,000 euros sound?” enquired a friend of a friend, who lived in a very big house and drove a very nice car.  “What about 9,000 euros?” offered a fully qualified and above-board English electrician (no language barrier...).  My mouth flapped, Al’s jaw dropped, and I set about getting more quotes. 

Finally, we hired a local French electrician who quoted 6,000 euros and gave us a 10% discount.  Sorted!  We arranged the dates for the work to be completed two weeks before we were due to leave the gite and move in.  Perfect.

Did I say ‘perfect’? 

Happy Days!

(to be continued…)