Reading fantasy: some thoughts and recs.

We need, I think, fantasy in our lives, with its total escapism which at the same time asks us to look closely at ourselves. However, critics (both pro and anti) talk about fantasy as though it were all one genre. About the only thing some of the stories have in common is the disconnection from our mundane reality. That’s a bit like saying Romeo and Juliet falls into the crime category because it involves death. I enjoy reading fantasy, as well as writing it, but I tend to veer away from most of what is commonly known as ‘high fantasy’ just as I tend to avoid horror, really violent thrillers, overwhelmingly sweet romance and heavy handed humour. These are, of course, personal preferences, not criticisms.

I like exploring new worlds, as in the kinds of books and series that merge sci fi with fantasy. A good example of this is Anne McCaffrey’s Pern where it turns out the dragons were biologically engineered from small fire lizards on a new planet. The world building is superb and the dragons are more memorable than some of their riders.

I also like so-called urban fantasy where non-human beings interact with our mundane world though I prefer fae and shapeshifters, and am not so enamoured of vampires, zombies or demons. My favourites are series like Seanan McGuire’s October Daye, the changeling private detective who solves crimes for the fae as well as the normal inhabitants of San Francisco, and Laurell K Hamilton’s Merry Gentry (but not her vampire stories) where the heroine is caught between the ‘seelie’ and ‘unseelie’ courts of fairyland whilst trying to live in the modern world. I do not, however, much like stories that are based on someone from our reality being magically transported to another. Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry and Steven Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant left me vaguely dissatisfied as I had a nagging feeling that the stories were founded on a kind of cheating.

I would include JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series in my favourites with caveats. The world she creates, of wizards living in parallel with the mundane ‘muggle’ world, is brilliant, and I am fascinated by the stories. I am not, however, a fan of her actual writing skills and I think the entire appeal of the series for me has been based on the films, the sometimes superb fanfiction and the way my own boarding school experiences are evoked by Harry’s story.

I love books that focus on the politics and social structures of the invented world rather than the magic which is a mere undercurrent. A good example of this is George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones though I do wish he’d get on and finish the book series instead of basking in the glory of the TV show, however wonderful it was. I can’t help remembering Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time which ground to a halt when the author died mid series. It was rescued, brilliantly, by Brad Sanderson, who possibly wrote better than Jordan had done towards the end of his life. However, I don’t count the series among my top recommendations. I think that’s because, having got to the end and found out the fates of the various characters, I have no wish or need to re-read it. It would be a bit like re-reading a crime story where I know the outcome. Game of Thrones (so far, and going by the TV version) leaves the ‘world’ wide open for later stories whereas Wheel of Time comes to a very final conclusion.

Deborah Harkness is another author who made me love her All Souls trilogy despite the vampires and time travel, neither of which usually appeal. The story has witches as well as vampires and moves seamlessly between modern Oxford, mediaeval France, Elizabethan England and late nineteenth century rural America. The characters are so well portrayed that I found myself not caring where they were so long as I could follow their lives and loves.

I have recently read, and would thoroughly recommend, The Gardener’s Handbook trilogy by Felicia Davin. Be careful when you look for it online – the title tends to lead you into rabbit holes consisting of non-fiction gardening books. The trilogy takes place on an invented world, with subtle but terrifying magic, and a cast of fascinating characters whose courage is wonderful and whose love lives are incredibly romantic.

And of course I can’t leave this kind of fantasy with talking about Terry Pratchett. I turn (and return) to his Discworld novels for comfort reading. Discworld is a distorted but truthful mirror of our own society and like all the best of sci fi and fantasy the stories help us to observe our own social problems through a different perspective, all while enjoying tales of dwarves, werewolves, trolls, etc. living in a detailed and intriguing world.

There are, of course, good and bad writers – and mediocre ones – in fantasy as in any other genre. The really good proponents of high fantasy can overcome my aversion to ‘swords and sorcery’ and I want to talk about a few of them. The obvious candidates for inclusion in my all-time favourite pantheon are JRR Tolkien and Tad Williams.

The author of Lord of the Rings is a favourite with so many readers that the trilogy made top position in the BBC’s 100 best books and it would be hard to topple it from its lofty eminence. The writing is good, of course, as is the world building. The story is gripping as is any quest, but it’s a pity so many writers have tried to emulate it too closely. Quests are at the heart of a lot of well loved tales but Tolkien made ‘the quest’ itself the main theme of his work. That’s a hard act to follow and so many writers try but fail, producing derivative and ultimately boring look-alikes. I think where Tolkien succeeds so well is in his depiction of a very real Middle Earth where people garden, cook, eat, smoke, go to the inn for enjoyment, not just on journeys, and have numerous relatives, loved and unloved. So many writers following in his footsteps never have their characters stop to savour fried mushrooms. The worse ones never have their characters eat at all.

Tad Williams is an author whose lack of fame surprises me. He’s known and loved among fantasy readers, of course, but has never made the leap into mainstream the way Tolkien has. And yet his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (a trilogy in four volumes and no, that isn’t a typo) has everything you would want and expect: a very real world, full of detail, empathetic characters, a quest, politics, and various strange and wonderful beings. The title refers to swords, which are important in the quest, but the books do not dwell on their use as anything other than symbols. It’s one of my favourite fantasy series and one that, along with Lord of the Rings, I have read more than once and will again.

I have just found a new writer of high fantasy to recommend. At first, I almost abandoned CT Rwizi’s Scarlet Odyssey. I bought it among a pile of books when some of us tried (successfully) to get books by writers of colour to the top of the best seller lists. When I started reading I realised it was high fantasy, complete with demons (not my favourites) written in present tense which I tend to dislike. So I skidded to a halt. Later, I gave it another try and I’m so glad I did. Now, I can’t wait for the sequel, Requiem Moon, which is due in 2021. The author is from South Africa and his fantasy world is rooted in African cultures, religions and folklore. This is unusual enough and is fascinating, but he also manages to gain a lot of sympathy for his well developed characters and their problems. The writing is excellent and the world building is superb. Think Game of Thrones set in a fantasy version of sub-Saharan Africa with magic and mayhem. There are hints that this might be a very distant future of our world but until the sequel comes out I’m not sure. I do wish Rwizi had copied Martin (and Tolkien) more slavishly; I would have preferred to read about each character’s part of the overall quest in longer sections, whereas Rwizi copies the TV Game of Thrones and LotR film pattern of moving swiftly and frequently between the various groups. That’s the only real criticism. I even found myself so drawn in by the present tense narrative that I started using it myself and had to do some hasty edits to a story I was working on. The swords and sorcery element leads to some gruesome scenes but the overall story line is wonderful and the demons, whilst not exactly endearing themselves to me (or to the heroes), are at least grounded in strands of African beliefs.

I hope I’ve managed to tease apart some of the sub genres of fantasy and to explain my own preferences. I’m sure some of you must love swords and sorcery for their own sake, and I know some of you have a love of vampires and zombies. They’re all good, provided they’re well written, but we’re all bound to have personal tastes. When we consider the standard of writing, fantasy is no different from other genres, or even from mainstream literature. And that, I suppose, is why Tolkien gained his place as the nation’s favourite author, even winning over classic greats like Jane Austen. At least I’m in step with the majority!

(I chose a few covers at random to resize and use as an illustration. They’re all books I love.)

Mystery Road

The photo of Aaron Pedersen as Jay Swan is from a promotional site with the addition of a ‘film’ frame.

Some time ago I watched a film, Goldstone, which was meant to be a stand-alone. I was confused by much of it. The story, an ordinary thriller, set in the Australian outback, was clear enough, but I didn’t seem to grasp the character of the lead detective, Jay Swan.

I then gathered that it was in fact a spin-off from the TV series, Mystery Road, which I hadn’t seen. That explained things. I liked the setting and direction so when Mystery Road Season 2 appeared on our screens I went to iPlayer to download it. (I never seem to be able to watch things exactly when they’re aired.) I was pleased and surprised to find that the whole of Season 1 was also available. I’ve been binge watching!

I absolutely loved it. The series is made by Australians using Indigenous Australian actors, and the plot lines revolve around the treatment of Indigenous communities. Incidentally, I have never understood why the term ‘Indigenous’ is used when clearly the people came from elsewhere in the first place. However, it has to be better than the previous ‘Aborigine’.

The main detective is an Indigenous Australian. In the first season he works with a white police officer whose family have been involved in cheating communities out of water rights. The murder of a white boy is investigated, leading to all kinds of secrets being discovered, and also to drug running which then leads into Season 2.

In Season 2, the drugs case is ongoing, set against the background of a university archaeological dig on community property. Jay works with a local Indigenous police officer and the various threads of community feeling and responsibility are deftly woven together, as are the problems of racism, both overt and subtly patronising.

Knowing that the show was made with the full involvement of the Indigenous people gave the themes a gravitas that I think they would not have got if a less diverse team had made the programmes.

I’m aware that some viewers found the premise of the drug dealing preposterous. Perhaps, but drugs are a very real problem in rural Australia as well as in the cities, and as they form the basis of a lot of crime stories they were a good ‘hook’ on which to hang the real story, which is not a detective ‘thriller’ at all but that of a changing society. The drug dealing also led to some very violent scenes but those, and the car chases, might well have been inserted to attract viewers (especially in Australia) who would not otherwise watch a show about Indigenous problems.

The filming was excellent. The direction and photography were extremely good and the acting was at times superb and always competent. It was lovely to see some affirmative action for Indigenous actors and I really hope some of the actors find work in the wider film industry as a result of their performance here. It doesn’t hurt that Aaron Pedersen, who plays Jay Swan, is very easy on the eye!

The locations were well chosen and made me feel nostalgic for the time I spent in Australia. I didn’t in fact go to that specific area but the ‘outback’ was lovingly depicted and so were the small towns.

The music was gorgeous. There was a mix of Indigenous Australian music and classical religious song. I have created a short playlist for myself on Spotify – if anyone wants to listen, it’s called Mystery Road Favourites By Lizzie.  

As well as Goldstone, there’s another film, simply called Mystery Road and I am intending to watch it as it’s available on Amazon Prime. I understand it either follows Season 2 or very closely precedes it.

The TV series are available for about a year on BBC iPlayer so I would recommend them to anyone with an interest in Australia, a concern about racism in any form and a liking for police dramas. I certainly won’t remember the details of the drug busting, but the communities and individuals will stay with me for a long time.

Poppies with pride : a poem for 11th November 2020

In Flanders fields the poppies grow, except where vast farms there today have forced the wild flowers to the edges or driven them away.

The war poets tried to make us think of countless deaths and needless agony but novels and films despite their well meant words often exalt what’s merely seen as glory.

Men in and out of armed forces reminisced:  my husband’s father – military police; my grandfather in the British merchant navy; my husband’s uncle in Hitler’s death march east.

My curate father fought fires every night after conducting funerals throughout the day. None of them recalled unusual acts of heroism  or if they did, they did not say.

Three friends have brought up daughters who (sweet children in their early years) are now tank commander, weapons officer, SAS nurse. It seems that as we reaped so shall we plough.

I like to think I am a pacifist but if someone attacked my family I would fight. I know I would not turn the other cheek or go gentle into any vicious night.

And so I honour those who fought and fell. In normal years I wear my poppy with pride, but this time, faced with an unseen enemy I remain poppyless, inside.

Actually, I have bought some poppy earrings from the British Legion online shop. I have them on today and will wear them when I am ‘legally allowed out’ to go to see the optician on Friday.

Remembrance Day: Afghanistan

This weekend in London, wreaths were laid at the Cenotaph and at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey. On November 11th and during the week surrounding that date we (and other countries) remember those who have fought, died, and shown bravery in war. Most often, we recall the two world wars, perhaps particularly because the date is based on the Armistice that ended WW1. But we should not forget other soldiers, and currently a lot of fighting takes place in Afghanistan. I therefore think we should try to understand where our forces are fighting, and a little about why. To that end, I’ve been interested in books, fact and fiction, dealing with the region.

The first three books are true stories and treat the situation in far greater depth than is possible in magazine articles or television programmes, however well researched.

The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad is written by a western journalist who went to Afghanistan and stayed with a family there. It follows the lives of a Kabul bookseller and his family. They are strict Muslims but in fierce opposition to both the communists and the Taliban. The book helps the reader to understand the different strands of Afghan society and the courage of its people.

My Forbidden Face by Latifa tells roughly the same story but from the point of view of an educated modern young woman whose world fell apart under the Taliban. For many readers it will serve as a better introduction to the issues, because it is written by the woman herself and the reader is encouraged to identify with her rather than looking on as an outsider.

The Broken Circle by Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller follows a family who escaped from soviet-ruled Afghanistan, partly because the mother needed medical treatment that she could only get in India. The author underwent severe hardship on her journey. The family were separated; it was five years before they were reunited. As with Latifa’s book, empathy for the narrator makes this a powerful story though the emphasis is on the deprivations of the journey rather than the politics of the country they left.

The novels I have read cover the same period. They are both by Khaled Hosseini who uses his experiences and knowledge to explore the plight of different people, children in The Kite Runner and women in A Thousand Splendid suns. I am currently looking forward to reading Hosseini’s next novel: And the Mountains Echoed.

Prior to reading any of these my knowledge of the country was limited. Climber friends had journeyed through it before any of the ‘troubles’; they came back with exotic tales and beautiful carpets. We had an Afghan hound (all I can say is, don’t, although we loved him very much) and I had vague notions about shepherds defending their flocks from mountain lions with the aid of these dogs.

Now I know the women (in particular) of Afghanistan were educated and resourceful but suffered badly under the Taliban. I am also aware that the Taliban’s rise to power was inevitable after the botched soviet invasion and rule and the inevitable infighting during the power vacuum that followed.

Afghanistan has always been a difficult place for our armed forces. The Battle of the Khyber Pass in 1842 still resonates in British memory, along with sayings like ‘up the Khyber’ that apply to any doomed activity. Victorian Britain tried to extend the empire into Afghanistan but failed. Present day forces attempt to hold back the tide of extremists, in a bid to provide a normal life for people like Sultan, the bookseller, Latifa, the student, and Enjeela, the journalist.

Often they must fight in the very cities they are trying to save and must be sad to see the buildings crumble around them. Whilst the motives of our governments are mixed, and never totally pure, and whilst our soldiers simply do as they’re told, frequently unaware of the wider issues, the fact remains that they fight and die for freedom and show remarkable courage. We will remember them, and having read the books I’ve listed here, I will also remember the brave people on whose behalf they are fighting.

October reviews

A cartoon from The Spectator. Brit readers will understand.

TV and films

The excellent – see if you can find them anywhere!

Vera Season 7***** Great, as usual. I really look forward to this show and will be sad when I catch up with myself. I know I’ve seen the whole of Season 10 but am not sure about Season 9. I’m currently watching Season 8 but ITV has a habit of ditching the show for a week or two to allow for other programmes.

Mystery Road Seasons 1 and 2 ***** I adored this entire series and will be writing a more in depth critique later in the month.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ***** A really well directed and acted film about a woman who finds herself pitted against the police who have failed to find whoever raped and murdered her daughter.

Honour  ***** A fictionalised account of the investigation of an ‘honour’ killing In South London. I recall the actual case but had forgotten the details. Keeley Hawes plays the detective well.

The good.

Lawrence of Arabia: Britain’s Great Adventurer**** I have seen both the film and a previous documentary, and read about Lawrence’s life. This programme summed it all up and added more glimpses into the life and times of a man whose legacy feeds into the problems the Middle East faces today.

Roadkill Season 1 **** A British political drama with some excellent acting by Hugh Laurie. It isn’t as good as the original House of Cards, but it does make the viewer think hard about politicians.

Abandoned.

Adult Material. This drama centred round the porn industry sounded intriguing but managed to be boring.

Books

The highly recommended:

The Sugared Game by KJ Charles***** The second book about Will Darling and his occasional lover. A really good period romance and thriller.

The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire***** I think this was one of the best October Daye books yet, with a focus on the Selkie and the Merrow. It included a novella, Hope is Swift **** That was less gripping, probably because it was not told from October’s point of view so my sympathies were not altogether engaged.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini***** I cried more than once during this searing account of the experiences of women in modern Afghanistan. I will be looking at the novel in more depth later in the month.

Halloween Knight by K-lee Klein ***** A delightful Halloween themed story with all the angst and darkness associated with the night of Halloween but with a fairy tale ending. I read it on 31st and it was perfect!

The good

Physical Therapy by ZA Maxfield **** This is the second book in the St Nacho’s series. It’s a pleasant enough mm romance but it didn’t, for me, have the same impact as the first book. Good writing.

Where the Forest meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah**** This started out as a mystery with hints of sci fi, but although the story was satisfactorily resolved I found the ending disappointingly mundane after all the promise of the early chapters. A research student finds a young girl on the doorstep and needs to find out where she came from. Well written.

The merely readable

The Gift of Cockleberry Bay by Nicola May. *** Third in this chicklit series. I liked the first and then went and bought the other two. Unlikely characters, situations and resolutions led me to wish I hadn’t but lovers of the genre might find them entertaining.

Short stories

Chinatown by J Scott Coatsworth **** Clever sci fi in which 1984 meets Inception with the Chinese in charge. Well written.

Animal Control by Brumeier *****   A story in her After the Eclipse series, which is original work but archived with her fanfiction. After an eclipse, a town starts to have strange experiences. The characters and situations are incredibly well developed in very short pieces which are reminiscent (though not in any way related to) The Night Vale radio series. https://archiveofourown.org/series/839529  If you haven’t read the earlier stories in the series already I suggest you follow the link then go back to the beginning!

Abandoned

Shield series by Anna Butler. I couldn’t get past the space battles at the start. Military fiction is not my scene and I suspect the role of the military was going to figure large in the books.

The Angel’s Mark by SW Perry (and the sequel) I borrowed these from the Amazon Prime library. Present tense mediaeval whodunnits. Just no. Returned swiftly.

Enchantress by James Maxwell (Evermen Saga Bk 1) A very derivative plot with strange name choices. I gave up.

Fanfic

I’ve read a lot this month. I contributed to an October MonsterFest and read the other entries. You can find them all at: https://archiveofourown.org/collections/Shoobie_Monster_Fest.

For some reason WordPress refuses to link to the collection but if you type the link in your search bar it should work.

I can recommend:

Monster Fest 2020: Astro Edition by InterstellarBlue in which K-pop meets the world of mermen.

The recs I followed up from the comm holding the fest led me to:

Either Side of the Surface by lavvyan***** https://archiveofourown.org/works/14347482 wordcount 1616 which is Hawaii 5 O  but you don’t need to know the fandom

and I was reminded of the first fanfic I ever read (recced by my daughter)

The Water-Horse by Thamiris***** This is in the Arthurian legend fandom. https://archiveofourown.org/works/1630331

Other contributions and recs were too fandom specific to recommend here.

Then it was, of course, October, which always means The Professionals Big Bang. I have all the stories downloaded but have not so far had time to read many. Those of you who enjoyed Buen Camino, Bodie by Sharon Ray last year might want to read The Road to Finisterre which completes Bodie’s journey to the end of the pilgrim trail, but be warned, this is what the author calls a heartwarming death fic. My heart was not warmed but because of the content – the writing was excellent. https://archiveofourown.org/works/26336557

Halloween Gift: a gift story for Halloween

Happy Halloween everybody!

When I was at boarding school (UK) we made a big fuss of Halloween. We dressed up and told ghost stories, and the older teenagers put on spooky plays. We had candles and games like bobbing for apples. I have no idea how the staff coped with a lot of excited children in sheets rushing around a dark but candle-lit Victorian building. They must have been foolish or brave or both. I don’t suppose today’s health and safety rules would allow it! That’s the school in the header photo – imagine it with candles in every window and no electric lights on!

American trick or treat hadn’t crossed the Atlantic in those pre-internet days, so we didn’t do that, but in any case, trick or treating was associated with Mischief Night, the night before Bonfire Night in November. Everything nowadays seems to have been amalgamated into one end of October/beginning of November festival, no doubt to satisfy the demands of council-supported firework displays. And we got the American trick or treat bug, though Brit children mostly stick to spooky costumes, not princesses or supermen. In Portugal the older teenagers rush around with very ‘realistic’ ghoulish masks and I’m told by friends that Portugal has declared a 48 hour lockdown to prevent too much mingling this year!

Nowadays, I live in an old stone cottage (seventeenth century) with low ceilings, oak beams and a resident poltergeist. (A next door neighbour who has since moved away actually got her priest to come and do an exorcism.)

I don’t watch scary films – they make me jump, hurt my neck muscles, and give me a headache. But I like ghost stories, just for reading, not viewing!

You might recall my free story last Halloween which was based on our house’s history. The photograph that accompanies it is of our lounge window – where I write! And it’s clear that someone (not us) pebble dashed the front wall, presumably to stop it falling down. The modern facing hasn’t deterred the poltergeist in the slightest.

All of which leads to my free Halloween story for this year. It’s called Halloween Gift and is, like last year’s, in my ‘free stuff’. (See the tabs at the top of the page.) It’s about ghosts and witches (and a cat) but is ff and is (hopefully) cheerful fluff to offset the creepiness of the season.

I’d also like to link to some ficlets I wrote for an October ‘monsterfest’ run by a writers’ group I belong to on Dreamwidth (ushobwri). The ficlets are a mix of original writing and fanfic. They are interspersed with a few posts and poems you might recognise from this site. They can be found at https://archiveofourown.org/collections/Shoobie_Monster_Fest/works/27267490 and you could enjoy exploring the other contributions too.

Sorry this is so late in the day – possibly too late for friends in Australia and NZ – but I committed myself to posting on a FB group and that needed the first ‘publication’ of the freebie. I got a 3.30.pm slot UK time, so…

I don’t suppose many people will allow their children to go trick or treating this year. Greater Manchester, where I live, is in Tier 3 lockdown and visiting other people’s houses is illegal. I suppose you can knock at the door, but think about handing over coins or sweets without adequate hand sanitiser – not recommended!! So I’m going to curl up with some TV (not Halloween related) and then do my usual screen switch-off an hour before bedtime and read a couple of spooky stories.

Whatever you’re doing, enjoy the festival – and stay safe!

Monster Fest

A Dreamwidth community I belong to (ushobwri) has a Monster Fest during October when members are prompted to write about various ‘monsters’ and link to things they have written in the past as well as reccing work they have enjoyed by others. At the end of October they are encouraged to upload their offerings to a collection on AO3.

(At this point they go into support mode for members who are doing nanowrimo in November. The group’s name is a condensation of ‘you should be writing’.)

Not all the work is fanfic. AO3 is happy to host original work if it is part of a fannish collection or uses obvious fannish tropes. Members of the group are mostly interested in fanfic but write original stuff too.

One or two of the things I posted are already on this site in among other ‘free stuff’ and poetry, but most of the ficlets apart from the first one are new. The shifter ficlet is mm romance (nothing explicit) but otherwise the fics are gen. I have still used ‘not rated’ and ‘chose not to warn’ because my volunteer work for AO3 showed me you can never second guess what will trigger readers.

They are, inevitably, very short, because there were only a couple of days between prompts. But taken as a whole I’m quite pleased with them. I hope you will be too!

https://archiveofourown.org/works/27267490

The picture was made for the community as an icon and we were told we could share it. I have no idea who made it.

A choice of tropes: my preferences in fiction.

I was going to write about what appeals to me in the books I give four and five stars then I saw this meme. It’s one a few of my friends have done. I think it was originally conceived for the world of fanfiction but it works for original fiction tastes too, although it doesn’t cover crime stories which I also like. If you want to play, copy and paste the whole thing then post substituting your choices.


Slow burn OR love at first sight

Slow, please. Love at first sight always seems more like lust at first sight and either unrealistic or realistic but doomed. It can be fun, but not for longer stories or novels. Besides, I like following the details of decisions made over time.

Fake dating OR secret dating

Fake dating, because it’s fun to read as it gradually turns into not-so-fake. Secret dating – if that means people are in the closet about their attraction to each other and don’t want to be seen together – no, not for me. Again, if it means one or the other is already in a relationship, it’s a no-no. Not that I don’t think it can happen, and might make a good topic for a novel, but it isn’t a trope I go for.

Enemies to lovers OR best friends to lovers

I like both. If I have to choose I’ll have best friends to lovers because, as with the previous tropes, I like the slow realisation. With the enemies trope it sort of depends why they’re enemies in the first place.

Oh no there’s only one bed OR long distance with correspondence

I like long distance correspondence fic. I find it amusing and it’s usually a nice slow burn. I’m not keen on the one bed trope – it’s been done to death, and I don’t find it all that realistic.  

Fantasy AU OR modern AU

I write fantasy… So I’ll say fantasy but I prefer urban or sci fi fantasy and don’t go much for the heroic kind unless it happens to be Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. Modern AUs are fine in their own way – I assume this mostly refers to fanfiction. I can’t be bothered with many coffee shop fics, and college fics are a turn-off, but sticking the characters of e.g. SGA in an urban American setting can be interesting. I’ve personally written modern police characters in a mediaeval setting and find using a different period/location is a good way of exploring the core character. I do think quite often the writer ends up with an original story, merely hung on the names and character traits of the originals.

Smut OR fluff

I don’t really like smut if that means erotica. I tend to skim long sex scenes to get to the next bit of plot. I don’t really like fluff, either, since I like stories to have something serious about them as well as the romance element. Above all, I’m there for the story, not the details of the sex or romance. If I have to choose, I suppose fluff. I have read some very sweet short stories but I would quickly lose interest if they were longer.

Mutual pining OR domestic bliss

Mutual pining can be interesting. Domestic bliss rarely is. The details of other people’s domestic trivia simply don’t appeal. Having said that, I do like domestic details – if the characters don’t seem to shop, cook or eat I start to suspend disbelief.

Alternate universe OR future fic

Both please. In fanfiction I’m very happy with AUs in which canon characters don’t die, or make irrevocable bad decisions. I’ll even write it/have written it. I like future fic – I think good sci fi lets us explore our own society in a new context, and the same goes for any story set in a future, near or distant.

One shot OR multi-chapter

I have read lots of short stories I’ve enjoyed, but if I have to choose, the longer the better. And I do like people to break their work into discrete chapters, preferably with chapter headings. I actually seek out trilogies, too. I have a horror of unfinished WIPs, though, so each book has to stand reasonably alone. Think Robert Jordan… until Brad Sanderson took over there were a lot of angst-ridden fans, and at the moment the same applies to George RR Martin

Kid fic OR road trip fic

Kid fic if it’s well written. But I suppose that goes for anything, really. Road trips are OK as part of a longer story but I wouldn’t choose to read something with a road trip as the focus unless it was written by a friend and I felt obliged…

Reincarnation OR character death

Neither if it can be helped. I am very wary about reincarnation or anything similar that presupposes religious premises. And I dislike major character death quite intensely though I don’t mind if someone is recovering from losing a loved one who died before the story starts.

Arranged marriage OR accidental marriage

I think arranged marriage is interesting as a concept. In fact, I’ve just written a novel based around it. I find accidental marriage unlikely and can be irritated by the trope. It almost has to be a comedy and I don’t choose comedies often.

Time travel OR isolated together

Isolated together stories (e.g. snowed in cabin) can lead to some good character exploration. I don’t like time travel much.

Neighbours OR roommates

I think I prefer neighbours. Room mates tend to be college fic or very young adult fic which is not really my scene. Neighbours demand some serious world building which I enjoy.


Sci-fi AU OR magic AU

I like sci fi – as I’ve mentioned once or twice already. I also like magical universes and write them… So both, please! If I have to choose I’ll go with the magic but be sad about abandoning the space. Having said that, I don’t much like space opera any more than I like earth-based military fiction. So it rather depends on the context.

Bodyswap OR genderbend

I’m not particularly keen on either of these. Bodyswap is difficult for authors to present in a way that lets me suspend disbelief. Genderbend can be interesting, but frankly, I’d sooner read a story about someone who was trans, or cross dressing, or something more seriously in need of fictional exploration.

Angst OR crack

What a strange pair of tropes to set against each other. I’ve read brilliant versions of both and can’t choose.

Apocalyptic OR mundane

I quite like post apocalypse future fic but am rarely keen on zombies. Mundane modern stories have to be extremely good to hold my interest over a whole novel but some authors do a fantastic job.

A sort of birthday meme

I thought since it is almost my birthday I would try this ‘over the past year’ meme, adapted to include both original writing and fanfiction. Incidentally, I removed my birthday from all social media when I read an article that suggested it was an easy hook to enable hackers to access and use my personal data. I have read nothing to encourage me to put it back. I cheerfully help other people celebrate but I’d prefer to keep my own celebrations confined to close friends and family. If you want to wish me a happy October, go ahead!

Have I been consistent in my main writing over the past year?

I haven’t included previous figures for comparison because it was hard enough to tease this lot out. I’ve gone with dates of publication/posting which is by no means the same as writing… Any other data set was too convoluted to share.

Total works October 2019 to October 2020

Fanfiction: 3 stories plus 1 piece of meta.

Published works for sale: 3 novels and 1 collection of 5 short stories.

Free original works available on my website (includes ficlets, short stories, meta and poetry but not critiques): 11

So: 23 or 21 if you want to subtract the meta.

What’s your first and second most common work rating?

For fanfiction on AO3 I always use ‘not rated’. Occasionally my work is totally general and needs no ratings but I prefer to use ‘not rated’ as a default. I know some people will therefore not read but frankly, that’s not important for me.

For original work I sometimes put the adult warning on Smashwords. It really depends how I think parents would view a book if a younger teenager read it. By that, I don’t mean my own attitudes, just the majority ones.

I don’t write ‘erotica’ in either format, but I do take the characters as far as sex. This is usually non-explicit but definitely present in the text.

How many fics have you written in each relationship category?

 The fanfiction and the original stories, free and for sale, are all either mm or ff (or both) except for Answering Amanda which is for children even though it’s in my fae ‘verse. (It’s on my website.)

What are your top four fandoms by number?

For fanfiction I’ve written three auction fics this past year. One was SGA and the other two were Star Trek spin-off shows. I’ve written quite a bit of SGA in the past. Star Trek was a new venture.

For original work I’ve finished my fae series and my elf detective series and written some short stories, some of which were actually written earlier but polished for publication or posting since October 2019.

Who are your top seven characters?

In fanfiction this doesn’t apply this year. The three fics were totally different characters and pairings.

Obviously in my original work the bulk of my time was devoted to the main characters in my two series. The short works were very diverse and not connected with the series, apart from Answering Amanda as already explained.

And top six relationships?

Again, not really applicable.

If we’re thinking about the ones I’ve most enjoyed writing and have put a lot of work into, for fanfiction I had fun exploring John Sheppard and Todd the Wraith from SGA, and then Hugh and Elnor from Picard.

For my original fiction, I’ve brought both series to a conclusion and am sad to say goodbye to the characters. The focus of Living Fae is the mm relationship between Harlequin and Yarrow. The strong sub plot in The Skilled Investigators is the mm relationship between Fel and Rath. In the final volume I gave the major character, Genef, a possible romance in her future when a would-be suitor turned up, but she’ll have to get on with it without my assistance.

I started wondering about word count.

A lot of people are a great deal more prolific than I am but often their works are much shorter. I do have ficlets (and poems) in the mix and it was difficult to come up with an exact count but I think taking everything above into consideration I’d give a ballpark figure of 272,000 which I consider quite respectable and about average for me.

Meanwhile I’ve written a short story for Christmas which is about 10,000 and have extensively polished a short novel which is about 60,000. These are both in the editing/formatting process so I haven’t included them above. I’ve also written 7 ficlets for a writing community monster fest – more about that when I post the collection. That adds about another 40,000.

Altogether I’ve worked on approximately 382,000 words in the past year. Maybe I should look back next year, too! But the projects I have in mind are nowhere near as word-intensive so maybe not!

September Reviews

TV and films

The recommended if you can still find them anywhere.

Galaxy Quest***** (1999) I adore this film and was seriously happy to watch it yet again. A wonderful spoof of Star Trek but also a wonderful space adventure in its own right.

Manctopia**** BBC looking at the building boom in Manchester (where I live) and assessing the effects on various slices of the population.

Cyberbully**** Maisie Williams (think Arya in Game of Thrones) is alone on the screen for a riveting hour in a drama about cyber bullying.

Opioids Inc ****   Interesting look at the start of opioid addiction in US and the results, plus the influence of the big Pharmas.

Plague Fiction BBC4**** A look at literature written during and about plague, particularly the Black Death throughout the ages.

Des (and factual follow up) – with David Tennant****   The arrest, interrogation and trial of Desmond Nielson, who killed and dismembered at least fifteen young men. Gripping and gruesome. I quite like these docu-dramas that revisit crimes I was aware of at the time; somehow they put everything into context.

The Princess Spy **** Noor Inayat Khan was a young woman who was Indian royalty but died as a spy in occupied France, working on behalf of Britain, her adopted country. A blue plaque has recently been placed on her home in London.

The watchable but not highly recommended.

Secrets of Center Parcs*** How the holiday venues were founded and made popular.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 1*** I watched with intense concentration so that I could write a fanfic for an auction bidder who is thankfully pleased with the result. Plot and characters are interesting but I could do without all the space battles and special effects so might not get round to watching Season 2.

The Cult that Stole Children (Storyville) ***   The chilling story of a woman and her friends who got away with kidnap, child abuse, and a great deal of falsification of documents in Australia. They had friends in high places and although they were brought back from US to answer for their crimes, they were merely fined. The woman died recently in her nineties, in a care home for those suffering from dementia. I would have liked more detail and less drama.

Books

The wonderful

Galaxies and Oceans by NR Walker***** An mm romantic mystery set on Kangaroo Island off the south coast of Australia. Gorgeous.

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin***** Siobhan, Malcom and Rebus are catapulted into a cold case when a body is found in an abandoned car. The usual vivid detail about Edinburgh, the characters, and modern policing.

Romancing the Undercover Millionaire by Clare London***** An exciting mm thriller set in the wine trade.

Alike as two bees by Elin Gregory***** Stonemasons, stone carvers and the people who employ them in Ancient Greece. Lovely romantic mm story that brought the period and place to life. I was reminded of Tom Holt’s The Walled Garden but this had a more delicate touch.

Dark/Darker by Paul L Arvidson***** Bks 1 and 2 of Dark Trilogy. What I want to know is when book 3 is coming. It was supposed to be published earlier this year. Fascinating sci fi with memorable characters. To say anything further would give spoilers; a lot of the pleasure stems from the gradual unfolding of the plot and the world. Warning: it could have used better proof reading but in spite of that I give it five stars.

The excellent

In the Middle of Somewhere and Better than People by Roan Parrish**** Two sweet and well written rural mm romances, neither quite gripping enough to make me buy the sequels.

A Vineyard in Andalusia by Maria Dueñas****  Great historical detail about nineteenth century life in Mexico, Cuba and Spain and excellent writing but I didn’t like the characters.

The readable

The Unspoken by Ian K Smith*** Too many gangsters in Chicago. I nearly abandoned this thriller but wanted to see what happened. I believe there are sequels but I won’t be buying them. (I didn’t buy this; it was a free read from Amazon Prime.) Well done, just not to my taste.  

The Brandy Trade under the Ancien Régime by L.M.Cullen.*** Some interesting information about the growth of the international trade in spirits but too much dry financial and legal detail so I skimmed.

The Layered Mask by Sue Brown*** Regency mm with rather stereotypical characters and a somewhat contrived ending. Well written.

My Anti-Marriage by DJ Jamison*** Too much sex and a very slight story though it’s a pleasant plot and well written.

Short Stories

Rain by Nick Thiwerspoon*** A nice ficlet on Nick’s blog.

Abandoned

Nothing abandoned this month! Is this a first?

Fanfiction

Torchwood High by Pooky1234 **** Very clever and well done. Alexa has been promoting this on her author FB page and I can add my recommendation. A convoluted story about the staff (and a few kids) in a Welsh high school. However, I like Torchwood for the aliens and really missed them… It’s long: 290619 words so take a deep breath!  https://archiveofourown.org/works/22937830

Riders of the Purring Sage by Edonohana **** A delightful very short story (2906 words) about cat herding in the old wild west. No romance, just lots of cats and a possible ghost. Could be a good Hallowe’en read. http://archiveofourown.org/works/12934236