Saturday, 18 January 2020

Sleep well, Dad


I've been quiet on the blog recently - and it's been for sad reasons. My Dad died shortly before Christmas. It was expected - he'd been in declining health for a while - but nonetheless the moment is never easy. There was a lot of travelling - to go see him before he passed, and to go back for the funeral. There's been little time for much else, but I wouldn't have wanted to use my time better. Farewell, Dad, sleep well. 


George Hunt with my mum, Maureen Hunt, in Austria

George Harold Hunt was a Yorkshireman who fell in love with an Irishwoman and the Irish culture. He was born in Tickhill, South Yorkshire, on August 3, 1933. As a young man, he played football – notably breaking the leg of a future Busby Babe - and was offered a contract to become a professional. Instead, he became a sailor – and it was that decision that led to him seeing the world, and meeting the woman he would marry.
One of his voyages took him to Rome, and on shore leave, he sought out a place to see the seven hills of Rome. He said that as he watched, the sun came out from behind the clouds and lit up each of the seven hills in turn. He said he knew something special was going to happen to him after that. His next voyage brought him to Derry, where he met Maureen.
Maureen was an Irish Catholic – and at first alarmed to have the attention of an English sailor. When he asked her when he could see her again, she told him she’d be at a dance in the deepest, most Catholic spot in Derry – a no-go area for Englishmen in uniform. As she walked in, George and two of his shipmates stood up from the seats by the door where they were waiting for her to arrive. The romance began. The following week, he told his parents he had met the girl he was going to marry – and in the courtship, he even hitched a ride in a two-seater Spitfire to go see her.
George and Maureen married and had five children – Bernard, Michael, Mary, David and Stephen – and settled to live in Coleraine. We often used to say that Dad was the most Irish of any of us - playing Irish music loud and drinking Bushmills whiskey. Both George and Maureen played their part in trying to overcome the religious differences in Northern Ireland at the time – Maureen set up the first non-religious playgroup in Northern Ireland, and George was the first Catholic to become a senior official in the British Legion there, and he was planning to stand as a councillor for the Alliance party. The Troubles were in full flow – and he received a death threat for his efforts to seek peace amid the politics of the time. That, and an opportunity to move to a new job at Seal Sands, led to the family moving to Middlesbrough, where both he and Maureen lived the rest of their lives. They loved to travel, they loved seeing their family grow as they became grandparents, and they were very happy together. George was a keen golfer, a regular at the Municipal Golf Course for many years. Faith was important to him and Maureen and the family were regulars at St Francis Church until the past few years.
Maureen died in 2004, and George often talked about how much he missed her. As his health began to fail in recent times, he would say how he was ready to be with her again.
George died on Saturday, December 21, 2019. He was 86. He passed away in his sleep. In his last weeks, he got to see all his children – and even met his first great grandchild for the first time.
George is survived by his sisters, Kathleen and Margaret, and his children, Bernard, Michael, Mary, David and me. He was much loved, and will be much missed. 

Saturday, 9 November 2019

MEET THE AUTHOR: Claire Buss, author of the Gaia series




Claire Buss is a wonderfully supportive author. She writes for an author magazine, she runs a Facebook group (Sparkly Badgers of Facebook) for her fellow writes - and she's darn good. I've been lucky to be in a couple of books with Claire, including the Halloween anthology she edited recently, Haunted (available free at mybook.to/HauntedSparkly by the way). 

She has a new book out - The Gaia Solution, which is the conclusion of her Gaia trilogy. A little while ago, after her book The Intergalactic Poker Tournament was released, she stopped by the blog for a chat about her work, her life and more. Read on! 

The third book of the Gaia series is available here - I really enjoyed book one, it was a dystopia about a world where pregnancy is impossible... until it happens, and what stood out for me about it was the friendships on show between the main characters. Time for me to catch up with book two for a review!

Tell us a little about The Interspecies Poker Tournament – what is it called, and what is it about? 

Ah, my humorous fantasy novella, The Interspecies Poker Tournament. There’s a fae-murdering, moustache wearing cult that need to be stopped. Only it’s not a cult at all and Jenni the sprite is caught between a rock and a hard place in trying to solve the murders without telling her boss, Ned Spinks, whodunnit. She convinces her Fae Queen Momma K that a poker tournament is the best way to lure the serial killer out and Ned ends up playing at the high stakes table. Oh, and the dealer is an octopus. I mean, come on, what more could you possibly want?


What inspired the story?

The novella was inspired by a throw-away line in The Rose Thief from Ned where he says he owes the mermaids for the Interspecies Poker Tournament. As soon as I wrote that line I knew I’d be back to fill in the details at some point. I initially had no idea what the favour would be – don’t you just love being a discovery writer?


Without spoilers, what was one of your favourite moments of the story to write? What was it that made you enjoy that section so much?

I roped my husband into a poker game with some teddies so that I could record the actual hands that were dealt and give the poker tournament some realism – that was lots of fun and tense as we played the roles of Ned and *spoilers*!

What are your favourite genres to read – and what is it about those genres that draws you in?

I love reading fantasy books with magic and adventure and a quest – those for me are the ultimate get away from the real-world books. I enjoy the science in science fiction, but I can’t read horror because my imagination is too hyperactive. I like a crime novel because I’m rubbish at guessing who the killer is so usually, I’m still in suspense by the big reveal. I enjoy reading 19th century literature – Dickens and Austen in particular. There is something about the way they wrote, their social commentary is so fascinating, and the beautiful language is so captivating. I don’t enjoy non-fiction very much, so I push myself to read a couple a year and I belong to several different book clubs to ensure I don’t get stuck in a genre rut. It’s important to try new things!

What were some of your favourite books to read as a child? Which were the first books you remember falling in love with? Who are your favourite authors to read? And whose writing do you feel has inspired your own work most?

My favourite books as a child were all the Enid Blyton books plus the Swallows and Amazons series – I dreamed of adventure! My first introduction to the Fantasy section at the library came in the guise of Katherine Kerr, Terry Brooks and Piers Anthony. My favourite authors to read now are Sir Terry Pratchett, Ben Aaronovitch, Robin Hobb, Robert Jordan, Sara Douglass and I’m continually finding new favourites which is wonderful.

My humorous fantasy is influenced no doubt by Sir Terry with nods to Douglas Adams and Piers Anthony but not in a conscious, I must copy these authors kind of way. I just write that way. They are so good - they have influenced me indelibly.


You'll find me in these books alongside Claire Buss

What’s next for you as a writer? What’s cooking in your literary kitchen?

I am spending the rest of 2019 putting into practice what I’ve learnt as a self-published author which means improved book covers for some titles, rewriting blurbs, improving book formatting and testing the water by going wide with a couple of titles. I have plans for more audiobooks in the future as well so that’s exciting.

Currently the third book in my hopeful dystopia series is going through beta readers with a view to releasing in November 2019 (EDITOR UPDATE: It's available now!) and I have titles for two new novels in my humorous fantasy world – The Silk Thief and The Bone Thief. There is also a new multi-book series that is clamouring to be heard but it hasn’t quite worked out its kinks yet and I don’t start writing until I am kink free – my way of planning lol.

Away from books, what are your loves when it comes to TV and movies? 

As you wish, I’m a big fan of saving people and hunting things, copious use of Mr Pointy and brooding plus I will have second breakfast whenever I can.

Are your books available in audio format? How have you found the process of transforming it from the written page?

Tales from Suburbia and Tales from the Seaside are both available on audiobook – and I have free Audible codes if anyone wants one, just get in touch.

You get stuck on an island and had only one book packed in your travel bag before the ship went down – what book do you hope you have in there?

My one-of-a-kind solar powered kindle with over 900 books on it…

Ha! That's cheating! I have to ask for readers who might want to know: Is this a kissing book?

No.

Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?

I’m on Facebook at facebook.com/busswriter and Twitter @grasshopper2407. My website is www.cbvisions.weebly.com where you can find more information about me and my books.

A traditional question here at Altered Instinct – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

At the moment I’m reading The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton and the best book I’ve read so far this year is either Bird Box by Josh Malerman or Snap by Belinda Bauer but you can read all my reviews on Goodreads and I read at least four books a month, at least - https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16197976.Claire_Buss.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

MEET THE AUTHOR: Ricardo Victoria, author of Tempest Blades: The Withered King


Ricardo Victoria is no stranger to the blog, as regular readers will know. He has a special offer at present on his novel, Tempest Blades: The Withered King, which is available for less than a dollar on ebook until October 20, and to mark the moment, he stops for a chat about the book, its recent launch, and more. 



First thing first, absolutely the very best of congratulations on the launch of your debut novel. It must be an amazing feeling. How does it feel to hold it in your hands knowing that it's a real thing now?

It’s a weird experience. A part of me is so tired due to day job duties. Another is already planning what’s next. And beneath that, there is this inner kid dancing happily for finally achieving a goal I set to myself 20 years ago. It is unbelievable to have this book in my hands, with things that populate my head in print, with a world I created to keep my mind busy and being lucky to have been receiving good reviews. I know I’m not the most technically gifted writer, but being praised for the imagination and craziness –to call it in some way- of the book really raised my spirits. So I’m exhausted, but delighted. I finally achieved the third of the three main life goals I had set for myself…

I need new goals now.

Related to that, how does it feel to know it's out in the world now, that people you've never met have it in their hands or on their tablets? 

Nerve-wracking. Exciting. Impatient. I just want people to read it, like it and review it. But I know that’s not a reasonable line of thinking, so I settle for enjoying the fact that there is people buying the book and hoping that they like it enough to recommend it to their friends and family. And maybe, just maybe, someone will be inspired by it or the book will help them to get through a rough patch, like other books helped me and inspired back in the day.

Let's talk the book itself. One of the things I really liked about the book was the way in which the characters were introduced. I was listening to a piece of music the other day (All At Once, by The Airborne Toxic Event) and it reminded me of the structure of your book, adding layer upon layer so it all builds up. The way you introduce the characters is the same, one at a time, one layer on another, so while there's a lot of characters, the reader is never overwhelmed. Did you find yourself having to be patient, knowing you had this great character coming in and wanting the reader to meet them but having to sit on your hands a bit with them? And which was your favourite character introduction? 

Well, given the weird method I have to write, no, I didn’t need to sit on my hands until I wrote the scene where each character got introduced. I just simply wrote them as inspiration struck. So when I got the introductions out of the way, I focused on having fun with the rest of the story.

Favourite one? I guess is a tie between Fionn and Alex. Fionn’s is very cinematic (and based on a dream I had years ago). Alex, because his story starts in a similar way to a couple of personal events I was going through during the first months of my Ph.D. This was before we met of course, but those events set me in the path to learn archery and play Heroclix and meet you guys! So one is for fun factor and the other for more personal one.

There's a lot of worldbuilding going on in the book – how much material have you got jotted away in notes elsewhere, because I get the sense there's a lot more still in this universe?

Let’s put it this way: if I put to writing all the material I have for world building and backstory, I could create my own equivalent to the ‘World of Ice & Fire’, with different cultures, lore and events. I’m still missing a few centuries worth history and a few regions to fill out, I just have a blank space there. But they will come in time. Writing short stories (like Asherah’s Pilgrimage or Buried Sins) have helped me to flesh out that, though.

Does that mean you've got a sequel brewing?

Make that two. Probably three. Maybe a short story anthology.


What's been your favourite moment of the novel publishing process? 

Besides writing the book? Working with Salvador on the cover illustration and getting feedback from beta readers.

And what's been your favourite feedback so far? 

As I mentioned before, the ones praising the book for its creativity and imagination, for the surprising depth in terms of emotional growth of the characters. And apparently some found my one-liners and jokes pretty funny. The basic plot might not be ground-breaking, I admit I’m a very limited writer in terms of style and skills (blame language barrier), but the fact that people are loving the story and more important, the characters in it. I have found surprising that many reviewers say that Gaby is their favourite character. Truth be told, I was nervous, since writing with justice a well-rounded female character while avoiding clichés was a major aim for me and quite a challenge.

I love the visuals of the book – there's one moment particularly with the skyship coming under fire and trying to navigate its way through a spectacular landscape (I won't say more to avoid spoiling for readers). If you had the chance for it to be turned into an animation or a movie, who would you want to make it? And if it was live action, who would you cast as the leads? 

Hell yeah!

The events from the book, in my head, look like an anime series – hence the episodic feeling of the chapters-. It was conceived in that way from the start. So yes, making an animation of it would be my dream (probably in the style of Into the Spiderverse or a more modern anime). As long as I can get the sequels of the ground before the first season/movie, to avoid issues…

Now, I envision the voices of the characters pretty similar to whom I would like them to play them either in animation or live action. If money, time and age weren’t an issue, this would be my ideal cast:

Fionn - Chris Evans
Gaby - Natalie Dormer
Harland - Peter Dinklage 
Sam: Hailee Steinfeld or Rose Leslie
Sid: Ryan Reynolds or Alan Tudyk



Alex is the only one I have problems casting for several reasons, so my wife suggested two options: Andrew Garfield (we both are fans of his Spidey) or Noah Centineo.

Netflix, call me. You know you want to.

I'm really delighted for you that this moment has come – but of course there are other moments ahead! What's next on your to-do list? 

Try to finish the draft for the book’s sequel. It already has a tentative title: “Tempest Blades: The Sequel: Electric Bogaloo 2”… nah I’m kidding. The title is “Tempest Blades: Cursed Titans”.

I’m also working on a Lovecraftian ghost story about pirates taking place in Campeche, Mexico. And maybe put together that anthology with stories about the world of the novel. Other than that, just surviving till my next holidays so I can sleep a little more.

Thanks very much for stopping by! Now go conquer the bestseller lists! 

Until October 20th, The Withered King is available for just $0.99 in ebook format from Amazon - to celebrate Ricardo's birthday! (Happy birthday, Ricardo)

You can pick it up at mybook.to/TempestBladesWK

Friday, 11 October 2019

Halloween horror movie countdown - some great movies for the spooky season



Halloween is approaching! And sure, you can grab the new Haunted anthology with my story Boot Hill in (plug, plug). But you can also join me as I count down to the spooky day with a bunch of really great horror movies.

I'm chatting about them on Twitter as the day approaches - and below I gather the suggestions in one place for ease. But hey, come say hi on Twitter (or in the comments) and tell me your favourite scary movies.
Some of these will be well known, some not so much - but they're all horrors that I've loved over the years.



























Saturday, 5 October 2019

BOOK REVIEWS: The Rose Thief, by Claire Buss; Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman; By Earth, by T Thorn Coyle; Chasing Solace, by Karl Drinkwater; Tea in Crimea, by David Kopf; Frostbite, by Joshua Williamson

It's been a while since I've had a catch-up on book reviews, so here's what I've been reading lately. I've also had a binge on some better known graphic novels, Sandman and Ex Machina, but skipping reviews on those for now. In the meantime, I'll start with the book that kept a smile on my face in the middle of some pretty bleak times after the hurricane that affected islands just north of here recently.


The Rose Thief, by Claire Buss
Warm, witty and utterly charming, The Rose Thief is a true delight. 
It follows the story of Ned Spinks, a Thief Catcher, and his assorted associates of magic wielders and otherworldly creatures. He has one particular thief to catch - the one who is stealing the Emperor's roses. 
Oh, and there's one special rose that is particularly at risk - a rose that is imbued with love itself. If ever that is removed, then love itself shall vanish from the Empire. 
Written as a Pratchettesque comedy - laughs with deeper meaning too - this is a real treat. There are deadly mermaids and vicious fairies, unlikely romances and plentiful snort laughs. It sometimes gets a little bogged down in the later part of the story with getting us to the finale, but that's the only negative I could say.  
More than that, though, it really does ask some pointed questions - such as what if love were to disappear, what would that mean? How could the world go on without love?
I read this book at a really rough time in life - and it put a smile on my face when it was hard to find things to smile about. That alone gives it my recommendation. 

AI Rating: 4/5

The Rose Thief is available on Amazon here.


By Earth, by T Thorn Coyle
Witchcraft, ghosts and the supernatural - yet strangely enough these aren't nearly as important to this story as modern day social issues. 
Cassie is a witch and Joe is a working guy getting over the pain of the death of his girlfriend. Cassie is struggling with issues of bad landlords and tenant unions, while the cost of healthcare in the US looms large for Joe. Both these issues - and the slowly building relationship between Cassie and Joe play a bigger part in matters than the magic, and so the supernatural elements feel almost tacked on at times, coming into play as the mystery of what happened to Joe's journalist girlfriend plays out. 
There are a lot of authentic elements - the Portland setting feels genuine to me as a reader - but the mystery doesn't feel deep enough, and the resolution comes a little too easily for me. 
That said, it's an easy read, and blends social justice issues well into the narrative. It wasn't for me, but I can see other readers will adore it. 

AI Rating: 3/5
By Earth is available on Amazon here.


Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman
Here's a thing: I really love Neil Gaiman's work. 
I mean, that's hardly likely to be a shock - just about the whole world does these days, it seems. Good Omens (co-written with Terry Pratchett) has finally had the adaptation it deserves. American Gods is much loved. Sandman is coming to Netflix. He's an award winner, and all the etceteras. 
I first really fell for his work with the TV adaptation of Neverwhere, then Good Omens and his Babylon 5 script, and he has a way of pouring magic into his words, to make them haunt you. 
Which makes me feel all the more surprised that I was left cold by much of this collection. Every writer has their tics, their themes that they return to, but to have them recur so often in a short space highlighted them here. The casual and almost bored sex, the going-through-the-motions flirting, the self-conscious narrators... it soon wore me down. 
The best story by far is the splendid A Study in Scarlet - a mash-up of HP Lovecraft's monsters and Sherlock Holmes, with a delightful twist by the end. I will confess I enjoyed the graphic novel version of this a little more (available separately) but it's a damn fine read. 
The rest? Well, they're often more fragmented things than fragile ones. Incomplete or insubstantial too often. A case in point is The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch - a story built around an odd night out at a circus with Jonathan Ross and Jane Goldman who bring along the titular Miss Finch for Gaiman to flirt with. The story is told as they go from room to room of the circus, seeing peculiar things that have loose ends left dangling, only for Finch to then vanish. Something then happens that's odd, and unexplained, and the story ends. That's it. 
There is a regular sprinkling of magical moments from Gaiman - even in these snippets, he has a turn of phrase that sometimes takes your breath away, but really this is a collection more for the devoted fan of his rather than the casual reader. And as someone who has really been bewitched by his work in the past, I find it really surprising that it wasn't for me. 

AI Rating: 2/5

Fragile Things is available on Amazon here.


Tea in Crimea, by David Kopf
This is a very timely tale given the politics of the moment. 
David Kopf takes the Russian annexation of Crimea and turns it into a fictionalised account - giving us a view of the events as it might have been seen from those who lived it. 
Impeccably researched, Kopf shows us the chaos at the ground level from those reacting to the sudden appearance of Russian troops, and the machinations of those troops to appear to be unofficial militia. 
It reminds me somewhat of Year of the Gun, the 1991 John Frankenheimer movie depicting a journalist observing the events leading up to the death of Aldo Moro in Italy. 
Here, that culminates in unexpected alliances as people try to stay alive in an uncertain time, facing new borders in a country they thought was their own. 
There are no easy conclusions, no simple answers - but as the consequences of this real-world event are still playing out, that's of little surprise. 
For those trying to understand what happened in the Ukraine in 2014, this really humanises the story and gives a sense of why it still so very much matters today. 

AI Rating: 4/5

Tea in Crimea is available on Amazon here


Chasing Solace, by Karl Drinkwater
This sequel to Lost Solace picks up where the horror of the first book left off. Lead character Opal is hunting for her sister, lost in the universe - and that means trying to find answers in the Lost Ships, strangely monstrous vessels that seem like haunted houses in space. 
The first book had plenty of horror, this book layers on the grotesque, for the ship she has to explore this time is a space abattoir, slicing up giant pieces of meat for the galaxy's consumption. 
The channels of the ship run red as she makes her way through the charnel house with only her artificial intelligence vessel as a companion - until she comes face to face with her equal, an assassin with an AI ship of her own. 
One by one, all of Opal's assets are stripped away - leaving her trying to survive alone in the most dangerous of environments. 
I enjoyed this - though it took a little while to get to the literal meat of the story. I slightly preferred book one, whose ship was filled with a little more of the unexpected, but this is still a solid piece of sci-fi horror. 
I compared the first book to the movie Event Horizon - and that holds even more so here. I look forward to whatever horrors await in future. 

AI Rating: 4/5

Chasing Solace is available on Amazon here.


Frostbite, by Joshua Williamson, Jason Alexander and Luis NCT

An icy Mad Max world, full of betrayal and lives spent cheaply. A nice sci-fi tale that neatly tied up by the end. Some of the art seems to be Bill Sienkiewicz inspired too - especially the bear! 
The world is well realised, with people huddled in cities trying to stay warm against the advance of a frozen world unleashed by a science experiment gone wrong. Then there's Frostbite, a disease that slowly turns people into ice - a process that speeds up whenever they try to stay warm. 
It's nice to see the time given to a story in comic book format that doesn't have superheroes, doesn't have established characters - and which has a good story to tell. 
It is, in short, cool.

AI Rating: 4/5

Frostbite is available on Amazon here.