What I’m Reading This Week – 10 March 2017 Edition

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I’ve recently changed my commute routine for the day job. Before, I used to drive 35-40 minutes into work, park up nearby and repeat the routine coming home. I’m making a bit of an effort at the moment to save money here and there for a mortgage – you know, proper grown up stuff. As part of that I realised I could spend less money by driving to the nearest train station that has free parking and then catch the train in from there. The good news is that yes, it is indeed saving me money. I only pay for the trips that I have to make. Before, I had a monthly parking pass which I would be charged for whether I used it or not.

Anyway, to explain the train thing. It means that now I have opportunity to read some books, watch some TV shows, even do some writing when I’m on the train. It’s an extra hour or so per day that I have for it, and I’m making the most of the time I’ve gained back. So far this year I’ve finished off 15 books, 6 or 7 ahead of my target for the year. I’m quite pleased with myself – if only because I have more than 500 books on the “to read” pile, which never seems to shrink. If anything, the more I’m reading the worse it gets. In a good way, of course.

There, that’s the boring bit of context out of the way. Now onto the fun stuff.

So then, what have I been reading this week? I’ve been switching between physical books and my Kindle subject to where I’m reading. As much as I’d like to lug around a big hardback novel on my commute, it’s much more convenient sticking with the Kindle. Physical books I tend to read when I’m at home.

The Player of Games by Iain M Banks

I’ve recently started reading the Culture series of novels by Iain M Banks. Consider Phlebas was a solid space opera opener, even if the plot felt like it was a case of watching the main character Horza make one bad decision after another. In any case there was enough there for me to enjoy without picking too much of it apart. The characters were interesting and the world itself feels like a living, breathing thing in itself. Good enough to justify continuing with the series in any case. Thus, I made a special trip to Waterstones to pick up the second in the series, The Player of Games.

At the time of writing this I’m about 40 pages in. The story focuses on a character called Gurgeh who is very, very good at playing games. This in itself isn’t usually enough to draw me in, but it’s book 2 in the series and Banks has drawn me in with the way he describes the world and the character’s thoughts. I’ll provide my final review of this as soon as I finish it. Most likely in time for next week’s update, if I follow my usual routine!

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood by Oliver Bowden

You know, I read the first Assassin’s Creed novel in probably 2010 or 2011. Since then I’ve bought the next three books in the series but hadn’t read any of them until now. I vaguely recall enjoying the first book, obviously enough to justify buying more books in the series. I should also point out that I’m a big fan of the video games. The story’s aren’t great, but I love the gameplay and the things you can do within that open world.

Unfortunately my feelings don’t stretch to the books. I’ve finished nearly half the book inside a couple of days and, bearing in mind it’s a novelisation of perhaps my favourite game in the series to date, it’s a horribly clunky affair. Aspects of gameplay such as developing the guilds and freeing parts of Rome from Borgia control are thrown into the narrative with reckless abandon, adding little to the core narrative. The dialogue is stilted and uninspiring, and both action and stealth sequences lack the necessary impact. It’s a shame, because there’s a lot to like about the world the series is set in.

There is one good thing about it – the novels ditch the modern day story completely. Thus, there are no cutaways to Desmond in the 21st century. This is purely about Ezio and his quest to defeat the Borgia menace. Otherwise, I’m not impressed thus far.


Reading far and wide has an effect on my own writing. It helps me to see where I could be going wrong, where I could make changes for the better, and so on. It can, in some very rare instances, show me where I’m doing things right as well. It’s interesting to see what other authors put out there, and to learn from them however I can. Not only that, but it’s also a brief respite from the real world. It certainly does the job, even when the book in question is mediocre.



Oh yeah, I also finished the first draft of my second novel this week. I’ll hit you with details on that shortly.


Friday Thoughts 02 – A Writing Update

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Hello again, hope you’ve had a good week.

As a writer I’ve always got a number of projects on the go at any one time. This week I thought I’d focus on the writing I’ve been doing and offering a couple of progress updates. 

Film Reviews

These are gone on here, for now at least. I’m still watching a load of films as per the spreadsheet I talked about last week. I’ll add to the Zombie Zone with every new zombie flick I see, but otherwise don’t expect to see many updates in general.

I’m not saying I’ll never go back to writing them, it all comes down to available time and value for money, as it were. Currently there are only a small number of my 700+ reviews that consistently get any hits. This is fine in itself as my habit of writing reviews was solely to learn the skill. If anybody else got a benefit from it then all the better.

It’s also pushing me towards that fabled 1 million words mark that should, in theory, make me a competent writer. We’ll see how that goes. In any case, I’ve moved beyond writing about every film I see in detail, at least for the time being.

What I may end up doing is lump a few similar films together on a page and see if that makes it easier for people to find what they want. Maybe a Steven Seagal collection, or a dodgy TV budget movie category? There’s a few possibilities there.

However, it’s worth pointing out that I have an active Instagram account where I mainly post the title screens for films I’ve seen. Check out the feed here. And if you feel so inclined, please subscribe for more.

Otherwise, watch this space.

Novels

This is where things get a little complicated. I finished the first draft of my first full length novel in 2015. It was then that I decided to jump straight into a second book. I am in the process of finishing off its first draft.

I had intended to do NaNoWriMo again this year, for the third year running, however life kind of got in the way again. November’s a difficult month to get things done. I may very well have another go at it, just at another time of year.

Each of these first drafts needs at least one further draft and polish before I let any beta readers take a look. The first novel in particular needs a lot of work. Too many narrative threads, too many characters… it’s a draft that is clearly written by somebody who has never written a full length novel before.

But… it has a lot going for it, certainly its premise and, eventually its plot and characters too.

The thing is, I don’t see this as time wasted at all. It’s all helped me develop an appreciation for the craft and how to plot out a story. Each of the three stories I’ve worked on so far have got progressively better, the characters more developed, the world building and detail more balanced.

As a way towards appreciating the complexities and difficulties of novel writing, it has been a valuable experience. I can also appreciate why until 2015 I was never able to write a full length novel. Again, a valuable experience.

Put it this way, I’m 10,000 words into my third book right now, and I haven’t fully introduced the villains yet. It’s all been about scene setting and the characters. Hark at me and my development as a writer, eh?

Short Stories

I’ve decided to branch away from the content I do in my full length novels. I have a couple of short story series in progress that I’m hoping to release every other month in 2017.

I should make clear that those two series are linked by their main characters only. There isn’t an ongoing narrative thread as such, and they stand on their own. You don’t need to have an awareness of the world or the characters to get into them, although I will be threading some of this throughout the stories as I go.

I’ll hopefully have the first one available for release towards the end of January, but I’ll not commit to any hard release dates as yet. I’ve done that before, many times over, but it didn’t pan out.

So far though, the first story for each series is almost ready for editing, and they run for about 6-8000 words apiece. Nothing too major, and just enough for people to sink their teeth into.

That wasn’t a hint about their content, by the way – no vampires.

Screenplays and Scripts

This is an ongoing labour of love, but I’m trying to create more time to finish writing my serial The Adventures of Trent Samuels. I first started working on this back in 2005. Since then I have made one full series and 2 Festive Specials recorded (with lots of help, obviously). I really should put a blog post together about that at some point. I’ll add it to the list.

More recently I’ve focused on trying to write the full 7 series before I set about recording it. As you might expect, with everything else I’ve been doing above, time has not been particularly available for this task.

But with dropping the film reviews, I’m hoping to make some progress over the coming months. Besides, I started work on Series 4, Episode 4 in December 2015. That’s long enough to be in Development Hell. Thankfully since I started typing up this post, I’ve almost finished writing that script. With a full plan in place it usually takes no more than an hour to write an episode. I will get cracking on that.

This Blog

Well as you can tell, this is my second week running where I’ve written a blog post. Huzzah. After a few months of silence, this is a good thing. I’ll be covering all sorts of stuff here. Things that have happened or occurred to me that week, writing updates like this, good music or other pop culture things. The whole works. I’m not limiting myself to just one area for this, if nothing else it frees me up to just talk nonsense for a few hundred words. Wibble wibble.

That’s as good a note as any to finish on this week. See you in a week.

Please leave a comment or contact me if you have any questions or points you’d like to raise – good or bad!

Friday Thoughts 01 – My Epic Film Viewing Spreadsheet

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Hello again, world. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Rest assured, I’ve not spent the last 3 months vegetating in front of the goggle box (although Westworld is rather good, isn’t it?). I have in fact been quite busy writing, working on bits and bobs, the usual.

I’ll be talking more about all of that in future updates. For now though, just to ease back into the routine, here’s a quick update on one of the things I’ve been tinkering with.

The Big Film Spreadsheet Project

Over the last four years I’ve maintained a list of every film I have watched. It used to just be the basics – the date I watched the film and its title.

This is where it all began. Let’s pretend this is the original in Pages and not a copy I made in Google Docs.

That was all well and good for the best part of three years. Then, back in July, I decided to move this information into a massive spreadsheet. I also planned to expand on the data I recorded.

Thus, the big film viewing spreadsheet project began. Whenever I had a spare five minutes I would transfer information from my text documents into the spreadsheet. After separating out my viewings by year, I decided I wanted to track directors, the year of release, whether it was a cinema viewing or a rewatch.

At that point I considered the project to be complete. This is, apparently, never the case. Creative minds always find more work to do, it’s inevitable.

Then, having already moved this information into the log, I decided to add even more data. As you do. This led to me adding columns for my rating of the film (using my rather boring 0.5-5 scale) and also the film’s running time. I would now know, almost precisely, how long I have spent sat watching through movies.

As it turns out – quite a lot. At the time of writing, it stands at 152 days if you watched every film back to back. A not insignificant amount.

Finishing The Project (Sort of)

And this has led to today. Apart from new film viewings and the odd movie I’ve seen before but forgotten to add (likely because I haven’t owned it), the list is complete. Sure, I’ll probably find other ways of pulling out reasonably cool facts and information and may tinker with the format here and there, but for all intents and purposes, it’s done.

Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, this is now available to view direct through Google Sheets (click here) or through the embedded document I’ve placed on this very website (click here).

This will be an ongoing project for me now, and will most likely replace my long-form movie reviews. To be honest, writing 500+ words for every film I see has gradually become more untenable as the months have passed. Time is at a premium these days, more so than it was in 2013 when I first started writing the reviews.

I’m tempted to re-purpose my film viewing so that I’m only writing about certain films. It’s certainly something much more manageable than trying to churn out 3500+ words a week on top of everything else. My zombie fixation might be a good place to start with that. Watch this space. Or possibly even this one.

I’ll be back next Friday with another batch of random thoughts, and an update on my fiction writing.

Until then: what do you think about the spreadsheet I’ve created? Drop me a line via the Contact page with your thoughts.

Books Read Last Month (and a bit)

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One of the key things a writer should do is read plenty, read far and wide, read and learn. Fiction, non-fiction, whatever. As long as you’re reading then you’re absorbing information.

I’ve extolled the virtues of reading and how it is perfect research for your own writing elsewhere, so I won’t bore you with that here. Instead, here is the first in a regular run of posts listing and quickly reviewing books I’ve read between 17 July and today.

Future updates will be just for that month, this one’s to get me up to date from when I first started drafting this post!

And yes, before you say anything, I do read quite a lot. That said, my update for the end of September may not be quite as impressive!

The Lost Temple – Nick Harper (read 17 July)

A random book I picked up in The Works’ 3 for £5 deal. The blurb oversells this one, a Da Vinci Code style romp across post WW2 Europe, complete with lots of shooting, running and intrigue.

The final product turns out fine,, although I would have preferred it if the characters had driven the plot more rather than the other way around. Apart from that, it does end up being an enjoyable romp, even if the villain of the piece is obvious from the start.

3/5
(Link to the book)

The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick (read 19 July)

This one didn’t take very long to read at all. In fact I finished it in a couple of hours over two days. I’d previously watched the film and enjoyed it, but that made a few changes that significantly improved the film over the novel.

Pat’s father is much more sympathetic in the film, whereas here he only accepts his son when their football team (American football, that is) are doing well.

The core relationship between Pat and Tiffany remains the same in both the book and the film, two messed up people who are perfect for each other. The finale here also differs from the film. In the film it made the point that it doesn’t matter if you win, it’s the taking part. In the book, the dance competition isn’t the resolution, but it ends with an equally important scene.

3/5
(Link to the book)

The Deep – Nick Cutter (read 29 July)

Another random book I picked up in The Works in their 3 for £5 offer. An enjoyable ocean floor thriller, if a bit overly reliant on flashbacks to pad out the story. The blurb says that everybody is getting a disease like Alzheimers (called “The ‘Gets”), so I was expecting something with a vague zombie apocalypse tone. It turns out that this is just the starting point for the story.

Instead it becomes The Abyss meets Sphere and a dash of The Shining, with a dysfunctional brotherly relationship at its core. There were a couple of moments that stood out – Luke, our lead character, squeezing his way down to the lower portion of the base, his relationship with the dog – but it relies on his flashbacks and the loss of his son to push events forward.

I did enjoy the setting, his descriptions and the characters, I just feel that the story could have used more focus.

3/5
(Link to the book)

Hitler’s War – Harry Turtledove (read 01 August)

Back in the 90s I discovered and enjoyed Turtledove’s Worldwar series, where an alien invasion takes place during World War 2. I went on to read the follow-up series, Colonization, and an alt-World War 1 series where the United States remained divided after the civil war (The Great War, I think). Since then I haven’t read a single book of his.

It turns out I haven’t been missing much.

Turtledove uses a huge cast of characters, but none of them stand out. Most are front line troops, all of whom have a dislike for their superiors and furiously dig holes when the shelling begins. Their names quickly became irrelevant. The only time the story picks up is when real historical figures, like Hitler, make an appearance. Otherwise this is one where you enjoy the alt-history more than the characters involved in it.

3/5
(Link to the book)

Dad’s Army: The Story of a Classic Television Show – Graham McCann (read 06 August)

Another reasonably quick read. It turns out most of the content of this book featured in the BBC’s dramatisation of the series’ beginnings, so I knew most of the story already.

Despite the obvious lack of first hand comments on the show (McCann does pilfer the archives for what he can), and the history of one of our best loved sitcoms is explored in enough detail to justify reading this. Those looking for an element of scandal or backstage tension will be disappointed.

I didn’t go through it in any detail, , but there is a full episode guide provided at the back of the book. It’s an all-encompassing piece that even includes the radio sequel, It Sticks Out Half A Mile (nowhere near as good as the TV series, for what it’s worth).

Overall, a warm, fuzzy recollection of a great sitcom.

4/5
(Link to the book)

The Enigma Strain – Nick Thacker (read 08 August)

This book was a freebie on Kindle. Set in and around Yellowstone Park, a bomb goes off and releases a virus into the atmosphere. Park ranger Harvey Bennett joins forces with a member of the CDC to work out who did it and why.

For a freebie this was enjoyable. It’s something I might have read anyway if I’d seen it elsewhere, but wouldn’t have gone out of my way for. The characters had enough definition to make them stand out from one another, and the plot moves along at a logical pace. There are a couple of interesting twists and turns dotted throughout, and there is enough here for me to consider reading the next book in the series.

3/5
(Link to the book)

Carrie – Stephen King (read 13 August)

I had never read a Stephen King story until this point. I figured if I was going to do it I might as well go back to the start and work my way forwards.

I’ve seen the film remake (sadly, not the original yet), so I kind of knew the plot going in. King uses a mixture of traditional third person storytelling mixed with interviews and news pieces about the prom tragedy and its survivors.

While this isn’t common from start to finish (in particular the third person narrative sections), King seems to be a writer compiling a book on Carrie White and the events both leading up to and after the prom. I enjoyed this mixture of styles and it built up a nice picture without the need to dwell too much on specific detail.

4/5
(Link to the book)

Doctor Who: Vampire Science – Jonathan Blum (read 15 August)

In the absence of a TV series starring Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor, I’ve started reading the original novels starring his version of the Time Lord. Three books in, and the quality is variable to say the least.

This story takes place in modern day Earth, where a coven of vampires find themselves up against The Doctor.

This one didn’t do much for me. The characterisation was fine, but with a couple of minor exceptions the plot didn’t have the feel of a Doctor Who story. In many respects it felt like one of the old serials that the series used to do, dropping a few random cliffhangers in here and there to push the plot along. In isolation this is fine, but it doesn’t lend itself to a coherent novel.

2/5
(Link to the book)

Novel Writing – An Update

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Some books. Yesterday.
Some books. Yesterday.

Right now I’m drafting the novel I wrote in the summer of 2015. I’ve posted about this project elsewhere on this site ( a long time ago!), but for now I wanted to update you on my drafting progress.

And I have to say that it’s going rather well.

After putting the first draft away for nearly a year (and a failed submission attempt to Gollancz in early 2016 – more on that perhaps another day), I’ve come back to it with fresh eyes.

That awkward first chapter

The whole first chapter has been ripped out and I’ve started again. In my opinion there was too much in the way of scene setting.

Instead I’ve changed focus, bringing in my lead character immediately. This establishes the story without waffling on about why the Eden (that’s the ship) is in space.

From a narrative perspective it is much better, getting into the story as quickly as possible. I think when I first wrote that opening it was more so I could get a feel for the world I had created more than anything else.

So, in the interests of trying to make sure the reader is entertained (and I include myself in that category), that section will be completely different to the first draft.

The Editing Process

As of this moment I’m also making slow progress on editing the rest of the book. I’ve read through the first draft and there are characters that don’t need to be there. Plus, I’ve written scenes that either don’t make sense or don’t contribute to the plot, or where character motivations aren’t as clear as they need to be. A good start. This links to my piece about first drafts. I know full well that this one was not appropriate for people to see.

My editing process in this instance is relatively simple. I’ve read through each of the chapters and noted down the characters in the scene, the purpose of the scene, and highlighted any inconsistencies – these could be plot, characterisation or anything in the middle.

Then I spent a bit of time away from the draft, jotting down my first thoughts on how to resolve the issues I’d found. For example, I had introduced a highly religious group whose opinions were at odds with the rest of the ship.

Then I introduced another group who would be responsible for widespread damage later on (no spoilers!). On review, iit made sense to combine those two groups into one. It’s a little cliche that the religious group have a background of terrorism, but hopefully I balance that out with a few of the other characters in their group who are not so inclined.

The hurry towards the finishing line

Then there is the final act of the book which, again, I’m not going to spoil for you. In general terms I’m happy with the last couple of chapters, but the climactic moment was lacking. It seemed that the plot was driving the characters rather than the other way around.

It’s also entirely possible that I was hurrying towards the finishing line on the first draft and not giving the narrative the attention it deserved. But then, this is the first full length novel I’ve ever written, so it seemed appropriate to at least finish the draft.

In any case, it was another change that I needed to make. It took quite a while to think up a suitable finale, but I think I got there in the end.

There’s opportunity for strong character moments and a much more interesting action element to it. Both of these things are, arguably, missing in the first draft.

At least I have this first draft as a reference point. For my first attempt at a novel I don’t think it’s that bad on the whole. True, there are some admittedly awkward problems to resolve, but that’s common across most authors I think.

So, now I have to just finish my second draft. Then it’s time to get the story out to beta readers before a final polish. Then I can start thinking about the equally scary prospect of releasing the book into the wild. But of course, if anything of interest happens before then you’ll be the first to know.

Film Review Roundup – 21 August 2016

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Welcome to the first Film Review Roundup!

I used to upload these reviews every day, but that was getting a bit much for both you and me. I’m trying something different going forward, it might make life easier for all of us.

Rather than bombard you with daily posts, I’m now compiling them in, at most, weekly drops. This means I can still write my film reviews as and when I have chance and not worry about maintaining a regular schedule.

The posts will still be available individually, the only difference now is that you won’t get daily updates as I post each one. Much better all round, I’m sure you’ll agree.

In future I’ll do a few themed drops, but this will depend on what I’ve watched recently and/or written up. For now here’s the first batch of links to a few random reviews. Click the title to visit that review.

Fail-Safe (1964)

The threat of nuclear armageddon is explored when an American bomber suffers a technical malfunction and prepares to drop its bombs on Moscow. Released around the same time as Dr Strangelove, this is a chilling take on the subject.

Closer (2004)

Four people cross paths in London and their increasingly complex love lives are explored. This started life as a stage play from one time The Day Today collaborator Patrick Marber. The stage play structure is all too obvious, but otherwise there’s some good performances to enjoy.

Love Streams (1984)

John Cassavetes stars and directs as he focuses on the messed up lives of a brother and sister. It’s an interesting piece, and not necessarily one I would go out of my way to watch again.

Poltergeist (1982)

Tobe Hooper and Stephen Spielberg’s supernatural classic. Who actually directed it, though? And, in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Well, if you’re Tobe Hooper then perhaps, yes.

Hellboy (2004)

A demon is summoned in WW2 but is raised by the good guys. He has to fight undead Nazis and Rasputin. You know, standard.