I don’t often say anything about my life…

…my tastes in books, music, etc. yes. Daily events and feelings? Not so much. It takes me a while to be convinced anyone might be interested, and by the time I’ve decided they might, life has usually moved on. However, a group I’m active in on Dreamwidth gave an interesting prompt and for once I felt inspired. Feel free to grab the idea and run with it – either for your own life or for some kind of ongoing action in my story. (And yes, it’s all real, very real, too real.)

Prompt: Write Your Life! No, really! Write the opening segment of a TV show based on your life right now. It can be a comedy, a drama, a dramedy, reality TV, horror, whatever fits your circumstances. You can keep it drabble-sized, write a pitch for your show, or maybe do an arty title card. You can write yourself, an original character, or drop fandom characters into your life. However you approach this, the important thing is to have fun with it!

From Sunshine to Shadow.
(An ongoing soap opera.)

When the story begins the heroine has an idyllic lifestyle with two homes, one in UK and one in Portugal. Much of her treasured antique furniture is en route for the Portuguese house though some is still in storage. The UK house, now sparsely furnished but habitable, needs work before it can be sold.

A wildfire destroys the Portuguese house and most of her personal belongings including all her books, CDs, DVDs, inherited heirlooms and gifts received for birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries, etc. for her entire life. There is survivor guilt because she was not there and so many of her friends were. Some of them lost their houses, too.

The stored furniture returns and fills the UK house with extra ‘stuff’ which needs culling, and far too many boxes which can’t be unpacked because there is no access to anywhere to put the contents. A sideboard arrives and is filled, then other arrivals mean the sideboard is no longer accessible. The contents might just as well have gone up in smoke. The planned IKEA kitchen (and appliances) for Portugal now form a massive ‘island’ in the centre of the UK kitchen. (See the illustration…)

The heroine now feels like a rat in a maze – or in a scrapyard full of junk. (Just as weeds are flowers in the wrong place, junk is belongings in the wrong place…). There is no room to celebrate the holidays or anniversaries or entertain friends. Christmas dinner can’t easily be cooked because of the navigational hazards. She is considering a chicken with minimal trimmings. There is no space anywhere for a tree. Cards could theoretically be strung from the beams in the lounge but boxes prevent these being reached. She has come to the conclusion that any gifts or desires are just asking for future disaster and has deleted her wish list. Anything that might replace lost items is just seen as adding insult to injury; replacements create flashbacks, and besides, the items could turn up in the boxes. Who knows?

The scrap heap (or whatever you want to call it) has built up over the two years since the fire, as the heroine’s husband has gradually brought things ‘home’. The only silver lining is that the insurance company paid out in full. This underlines the truth of the saying that money can’t buy happiness.

Meanwhile, there is ongoing drama related to a possible poltergeist in the seventeenth century UK house. Suspicions have been around for years but recently, whatever is going on has expanded. Missing in action so far: a wooden letter opener, a charging cable for a Kindle (fortunately she has two), one of a favourite pair of earrings, two Christmas cards for relatives abroad (not yet addressed so nobody posted them) and, perhaps more worryingly, a very heavy sharp cooking knife. The vacuum cleaner hose was blocked by a small plastic dinosaur that nobody remembers ever having seen.

On another faintly paranormal note, the heroine has become aware that appointments with both her hairdresser and her dentist are always, but always, accompanied by appalling weather. No other appointments or arrangements are ever affected – the weather varies as it usually does in UK.

From the sublime to the more-than-ridiculous. Will she ever find out what’s in the boxes? Will she ever be able to use the kitchen safely again? Who (or what) has the knife? Can we predict the weather next Monday? Follow this slowly unfolding drama to find out.

My writing: an update

I feel really strange.

I finished both the series that have consumed my brain and my time for the last fifteen years. Living Fae’s final volume, On the Edge, is in the last stages of formatting and might even be published about the same time as this post. The Skilled Investigators has reached a conclusion although my betas might ask me to expand bits. They usually do. I’m one of those authors whose word count goes up after editing…

On second thoughts, I’m going to hold back on publishing On the Edge. It isn’t a Christmas story and could get overwhelmed in the general riot at this time of year, and I’ll be publishing my Christmas offering so that friends not signed up to this blog can get it on Smashwords or Amazon.

Harlequin (Living Fae) and Genef (The Skilled Investigators) have lived in my head since their inception. I got to regard them as perfectly real and as good friends. Now I’ve told their stories and don’t quite know what to do with myself. I have a suspicion I might be lonely.

That’s not totally true. There’s another novel that has been languishing on my hard drive… it needs some care and attention but basically, it’s written. And it could possibly be the start of another series.

I haven’t only been writing the two series, of course. I’ve managed quite a few short stories, and a fair amount of fan fiction. I have also written poetry, reviews, and meta about writing. All in the last quarter of 2019.

I posted a poem recently (poems always get more reactions on WordPress than anything else I say) and I also posted (on AO3) a story for a Secret Santa exchange. My giftee liked it so that’s a plus and so did the mods! I can’t link anyone to it or say anything else until the author reveal which I believe is on Christmas Day. I published The Road, and the collection Beating Hearts, I wrote about typos and about reading mm romance, and I edited and amended a short story that I gave you for free (Hallowe’en Changes). Then I got another short story ready to post for you for Christmas (watch this space). So I suppose I’ve been busy.

All the same, Harlequin and Genef are going to leave a huge hole in my life. There is a vacancy in my brain for at least one more character to move in. How do I advertise for new tenants?

Two detailed reviews and a plea.

I started watching Vienna Blood, a series of three 90 minute films by BBC, not sure what to expect. (I gave it 5 stars.)

At first, I was doubtful about the concept. But the sets and the acting won me over and I watched all three. By the end, I was totally hooked.

That’s where the plea in the title of this post comes in. BBC are waiting till they see what kind of reception the series gets before they commission a second series… And I need more! So please, please, if you have access to BBC iPlayer, download and watch, or pretend to watch! All three films are available for 11 months.

Think Sherlock Holmes (the original, not the modern Sherlock), think The Third Man, think Freud, think foreshadowing of serious antisemitism in Austria. Put all that into criminal investigations that can be quite leisurely because of the 90 minute format. Add the fact that the stories, from the Liebermann novels by Frank Tallis, are adapted for television by Steve Thompson, the screenwriter responsible for Sherlock (the modern one).

The cases are fascinating, with a wonderful period flavour, Vienna is lovingly portrayed, and the chemistry between the two detectives, Oskar (police) and Max (neurologist) is intense and full of both angst and humour. We also get intriguing details about the family and love life of both men, and about the police force and the hospital where Max works.

The programmes give the viewer plenty of crime (some of it very gruesome), plenty of banter, plenty of romance. It also leaves this viewer quite desperate to know what happens next in the lives of this pair of detectives, as well, of course, as what cases they will find themselves investigating next. Why BBC felt it should only show it on a Monday rather than at the weekend for higher viewing figures, I can’t imagine. They clearly spent a lot on the production, and everyone concerned deserves a second season. I believe there are more books, but even if those are exhausted, I think Max and Oskar would be a satisfying addition to our ongoing detective genre.

And now for something completely different…

The Greater Freedom by Alya Mooro (I gave this 3 stars)

This is one of those worthy books. By about half way through you know pretty well what the author has to say and just wish they would hurry up saying it. Mooro has written a book that delves into various aspects of modern feminism. She admits that many of the problems she identifies are shared by women world-wide. She then goes on to make a ‘special’ case for the suffering of Arab women. I wasn’t altogether convinced by her arguments about this but can see what she’s getting at. (She ignores, for example, the experience of Afghan women.)

I would have liked more statistics and more in-text references to her sources. I am not sure that the polls she conducted via Instagram are anything other than anecdotal. I should also perhaps say that whilst I do have numerous Muslim friends, I don’t know many Arabs. I had Arab students in the past but don’t think they would be able to speak for today’s Arab women.

Mooro does mention the restrictions imposed on women in Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere) but seems to be saying that most restrictions are cultural and are self-imposed as a result of social censure. This is interesting, but again, not perhaps deeply enough researched and is something many writers have already discussed.

However, I was actually shocked by the amount of freedom she enjoyed as a teenager. Far, far more than I experienced as a British teenager (in a UK Christian household) in the fifties, and quite a lot more than my daughter had in Britain in the eighties. It’s possible that today’s teenagers all have the kind of social life Mooro describes herself and her friends as having in both London and Cairo but I honestly think their behaviour/lifestyle is limited to those capital cities and perhaps to the liberal middle classes to which the author so obviously belongs.

I got bored. I skimmed, towards the end. I don’t think the writer gives us any completely new insights, and I didn’t altogether agree with all her conclusions. However, for someone who knows very little about the lives of Muslim women (and men for that matter) this might be quite an interesting read and an ‘easy’ introduction to the issues.

November Reviews

Films and TV

Dublin Murders*****
I really enjoyed this, with the flawed detectives (well acted), the Dublin background and the story which reached a satisfactory ending but still left it open to the viewer to accept a paranormal explanation for some aspects of the events. One review I saw criticised the fact that the lead detective should not/would not have been involved because of his previous history but his eagerness to take the case and deceive his superiors was explored in great detail. I was disappointed to learn that much of the location filming was actually in or around Belfast…

Spiral Season 7*****
What can I say? My all-time favourite cop show. Season 7 didn’t disappoint. I love the ensemble cast, the views of lesser known parts of Paris, and the interesting exploration of the French police, judiciary and legal system.

Carnival Row Season 1*****
Gorgeous show. Fae and steampunk meet in an AU Victorian London. There’s a gripping plot with lots of nods to current issues such as immigration and racism, fabulous special effects, and, amazingly, Orlando Bloom can act. But then he was one of the people involved in making the film so perhaps he was better directed than usual? I really hope Season 2 doesn’t take for ever to arrive. I watched this on Amazon Prime, and sort of spread it out because I didn’t want it to end.

Wild China*****
Lovely series with a focus on wildlife but plenty of information about the various Chinese regions. Eye candy, yes, but intelligent eye candy that educates as well as entertaining.

Great Australian Railway Journeys*****
Michael Portillo, being his usual flamboyant self, introduces the viewer to Australia and links the various places and aspects of life via train journeys. He has done the same in UK and parts of Europe. If you liked those programmes you’d like these. And it’s a great way to learn more about Australia; I think even a lot of Australians would enjoy it, not just for the scenic rides but for the interesting interviews with Australians.

House of the Year (Grand Designs) ****
I mostly agreed with the judges, with one exception, the eventual winner. I found that house boring! I much preferred the ones that were completely eco-friendly or that merged into their surroundings.

The Accident****
Brit drama set in South Wales, where a combination of company greed, local council desperation and kids behaving recklessly lead to loss of life and an interesting (and grim) court case. Some excellent acting.

Cold Call****
Another Brit drama, where the wronged victim inches gradually into crime to retrieve her money. Good acting. And chilling information about how scams can work.

Gold Digger****
Yet another Brit drama, this time looking at an older woman who finds a young boyfriend to the shock and horror of her family. Good acting and interesting character development. However, it was quite slow, and I accidentally missed an episode but didn’t notice or find myself at all confused!

Goldstone***
An Australian film about a Native Australian detective. Some good acting and photography, and it was interesting to see David Wenham as a baddie. However, I gather it was a spin off from a series aired about ten years ago. I didn’t see that and I kept feeling I was missing fairly vital information. The immediate plot was fine, but there were mysterious references to the detective’s past, and his private life.

Books

The excellent and the highly recommended:

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco*****
A re-read, to go with the TV series. I will post a longer critique when the series is finished.

Rhapsody for Piano and Ghost by Z.A. Maxfield*****
A pianist finds himself falling for his used-to-be step brother. However, although this is a contemporary mm romance the most interesting characters are the ghosts who help the plot along and have an mm romantic (and possibly tragic) past themselves.

Skin After Skin by Jordan Castillo Price*****
This is a novel in the Psycops series. I’ve read all the rest but hadn’t come across the story of Crash, who is a minor character in the other novels. The book explores his past and gives the reader another view of Jacob and Victor, the main protagonists in the main series.

Tallowwood by NR Walker *****
A really thrilling detective mm novel where a Sydney detective is thrown together with an Indigenous Australian cop in a small town. Beautiful writing, too. I am now looking for other books by this author and have so far bought one. More will follow, I think.

A Litter of Bones by JD Kirk*****
A new series set in the Scottish Highlands. It’s a police thriller with lots of excitement as well as an interesting location. I might follow this detective.

Twice Shy by Sally Malcolm****
Pleasant contemporary mm romance in which teacher meets single dad. One of the protagonists has believable children which is always a plus.

Five Bloody Hearts by Joy Ellis****
The first volume in a new police procedural set in the north east fens. A gripping story and an interesting lead detective.

The Arrangement by Alex Jane****
A really heartwarming story in which friends push Gabriel and Nathaniel together. It loses a star because of poor proof reading.

The Replacement Husband by Eliot Grayson****
I really enjoyed the arranged marriage between Owen and Arthur, but found the world building less than stellar. I do think that if the main character is ‘Goddess Blessed’ and this affects their life and their future, the reader might be given an explanation.

The readable:

Silver Scars by Posy Roberts.***
A nice mm romance between two people with physical injuries and PTSD. However, although it was novel length, I found the writing rather repetitive and ‘padded’, and might have enjoyed it better if it hadn’t been written in present tense.

Bring Them Home by DS Butler***
This is another new police procedural set in Lincolnshire. The story was gripping enough but there was too much focus on procedure and the team seemed somewhat disjointed. I don’t think I’ll follow the series.

Survivor by TM Smith***
I enjoyed this story but thought it had poor structure. The author never seemed to make up their mind whether they were writing a thriller or an mm romance. Yes, you can cross genres to great effect, but there needs to be a main focus and that was missing here.

The Greater Freedom by Alya Mooro***

A book about feminism written from the perspective of an Arab woman. I’ll look at it in greater depth in a later post.

And the poor:

Dragonslayer by Resa Nelson**
I read the whole story and found it interesting and gripping enough, but won’t be following this series about Astrid, a smith, and her lover DiStephan in this AU mediaeval world. There were a lot of plot holes and I didn’t think the world building was adequate.

I can see you by Michael Leese**
How on earth can someone write a boring serial killer/spy story? This author managed it. I think the main problem was the way the story was structured so that the reader had too much knowledge before the protagonists did.

Short stories

The recommended:

Vlarian Oath by MistressKat***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/21288197
I reviewed this in an earlier post. Gorgeous sci fi with an ff romance at its heart. An original story written for a story challenge that spanned original work and fanfic.

Trolling for Cupcakes by JL Merrow****
Short sweet ff ‘take’ on the tale of Three Billy Goats Gruff. Too short to get five stars. (I don’t mean that really short stories can’t get five stars, but that this one was too short for me.)

The readable:

A World Apart by Mel Gough***
Ben, a cop meets Donnie when the latter is wrongly arrested. Quite a nice story but for my taste there was too much focus on injury and medical care.

And the forgettable:

Cops, Cakes and Coffee by Sara York**
Fortunately short story. Drake is a cop and Adam is a baker, hence the title. It’s PWP (plot what plot in case you don’t know the genre) and has too much sex for too little reason.

Fanfiction

I read more Professionals Big Bang fic but there was nothing further I’d recommend to readers who are not already part of the fandom.

I also read more contributions to the Lewis FrightFest Challenge. I’d like to recommend:
In the forests of the night by greenapricot***** It isn’t actually frightening at all but is a lovely look at legends about shapeshifters and is set in Northumberland. https://archiveofourown.org/works/21281798

In other fandoms:

The Monster Next Door by Brumeier***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/21245204
This is a great short story written for a Halloween MonsterFest. I now want the author to write the story from the point of view of the cat…
It’s ostensibly a crossover between SGA and Labyrinth but takes off in a direction all its own.

I also found some beautiful poetry by silverr, based on folk tales, legends and art:
Wild of Branch and Root***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/14570421
The Black House***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/1088288

A ‘mememe’ meme grabbed from a friend.

You can probably learn a lot about someone from their tastes in books, art, music, films, etc.

My favourite author/book

I have to go with Lord of the Rings. I have read it multiple times and I still return to it. I wouldn’t say Tolkien is the best author I’ve read. (I don’t, for instance, enjoy the style of The Silmarillion.) But the book is fabulous. The films try hard and I enjoyed them but they pale in comparison. If I had to pick an author I’d probably choose Georgette Heyer – shades of Austen plus subtext with lots of humour as well.

The Book I’m reading.

Culpeper’s Herbal. It’s a re-read. I lost my copy in the Portuguese fire and have repurchased, this time a copy with modern updates/annotations. I’ve used the book for reference when writing my fae saga and I love all the ways it sends my mind down lots of untrodden pathways. I was interested to note that JKR in an interview said she had three copies. Other than that I’m reading this week’s New Statesman, and enjoying the short stories in the Rainbow Advent Calendar.

The book I wish I’d written

I think Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series. Whenever I read King I feel as if I’ve attended a writing master class, and I really liked the series plus the way it merged genres: adventure, romance, urban legends, quasi-sci fi, horror. Every word counts and the style, especially in the later volumes (he wrote it over a long period) is flawless.

The book I couldn’t finish.

I usually plough through to the end (with some skimming), especially if a book is popular, to see what the fuss is about. I tend to abandon badly written romance and crime. I think I’ll have to mention The Silmarillion – see my first answer! I got totally bogged down and bored. Same with Don Quixote and The Great Gatsby.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Not actually ashamed since it was a deliberate choice, but I haven’t read Ulysses. I’ve seen excerpts and that was enough. I definitely avoid anything that might be ‘stream of consciousness’ even though I gather it is currently fashionable again.

My favourite play

Torn between Midsummer Night’s Dream and Vivat Regina.

My favourite film

Torn again. The Third Man or The Fifth Element? If I had to pick for a Desert Island I’d have to toss a coin.

The box set I’m hooked on

Game of Thrones. I wasn’t able to watch it as it aired but I am up to date on the books. My copy of Season 8 (the final one) arrived this morning and I have so far been able to avoid spoilers – since the book series is not yet complete I have no idea who wins the game or whether winter simply draws play to a close. Why it took about six months for the DVDs to be available I have no idea.

My favourite TV series

Spiral, or Engrenages to give it its correct French title. Long running French cop show with all kinds of extra delights involving lawyers, French culture, and a look at modern policing issues. Before that, I might have said Spooks, for the same reasons. But I think I’m enjoying the French series more, partly because the actors, who are superb, are unfamiliar to me so I’m both hooked and fascinated.

My favourite piece of music

When I remember to vote in Classic FM’s annual lovefest, I always choose Bruch’s violin concerto. The first time I heard it I was on my way to work and stopped the car (and was late) in order to hear the end and then find out what it was.

The last movie that made me cry

Probably I, Daniel Blake.

The lyric I wish I’d written

More Like the Movies – Dr Hook

The poem/song that saved me

Not sure I ever needed saving… but I’ve always felt an affinity with Robert Frost’s short poem In Neglect:

They leave us so to the way we took,
As two in whom them were proved mistaken,
That we sit sometimes in the wayside nook,
With michievous, vagrant, seraphic look,
And try if we cannot feel forsaken.

He’s one of my favourite poets anyway.

The music that cheers me up.

It depends on my mood. If I really need to laugh, Flanders and Swan, or The Wurzels. Or Captain Beaky, though I lost my CD in Portugal and it’s no longer available. If I want to feel optimistic, perhaps any Chopin other than the Études which have some rather sombre pieces. His other work takes me to happy places – a visit to his house (now a gorgeous museum) in Poland, and learning to play some of the waltzes.

If I could own one painting, it would be

Hmm. I love all sorts of paintings in art galleries. Not so much in my own house which is ‘difficult’ with lots of oak beams and uneven nooks and crannies. Perhaps a fairy painting by Brian Froud or Amy Brown. It would have to be small if I was going to hang it anywhere. Other than those, I like the female pre-Raphaelites a lot.

The place I feel happiest.

My mood tends to depend on the company I’m in rather than the location. This is a hard question. Maybe in our garden in summer, especially at twilight, with that indigo sky, bats, and stars.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Buying too many e-books. I’m usually over-budget and nobody knows but me because they’re all hidden on my Kindle.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party. I’ll invite these artists and authors.

I only enjoy small dinner parties with people I already know and like so this is another hard one. And authors or artists whose work I like are not necessarily people I’d get on with or want to cook for. I’m going to go with people I do actually know: Fiona Glass (writer), Kat Soini (poet), Stevie Carroll (writer), Beth Richardson (artist), Bruce McGregor (actor). I think they’d get on well and the conversation would be stimulating.

…and I’ll put on this music

The Best of Queen, The Best of The Rolling Stones, and The Best of Sting.

The play/film that I’m looking forward to

I haven’t watched Peterloo yet but it’s on my Amazon Prime watchlist. Since I live on the outskirts of Manchester it’s something I’m really interested in.

The play/film I walked out of

I’ve never walked out of a theatre or cinema unless I’ve had to catch a last bus or train. I can switch off films on TV or my laptop and frequently do. The last one was Master and Commander. I was looking forward to it because I’d enjoyed some of the books, but I couldn’t be bothered with all the sea scenes.