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Cruising for Inspiration

A big part of being a story teller is experiencing stories and adventures, learning about other cultures and meeting new people. All of those experiences go into one big melting pot along with all the books and films to merge together and mix themselves up until the original sources of each part are barely recognisable. While I spend about 48-50 weeks of the year splurging out these ideas and my thoughts on characters of all shapes and sizes it means there’s a few weeks left where I do the opposite and go experience for myself.

This year my fella and I had the new experience of a cruise, and here’s the ship we called home for a while (<—-) the MSC Opera. (this photo was taken from aboard one of the lifeboat/tender’s the main ship carried, just outside St Peter Port on Guernsey). Our cabin was one somewhere near the middle of the ship in that row of windows just above the lifeboats on the side. We had an outside cabin but not a balcony room as they were a little out of our price range.

As this is the first cruise I was on, I didn’t really know what to expect but my cabin was reasonable and very clean and tidy. It also regularly came with a sort of towel origami and we couldn’t help but take a picture of the cuteness. This is just one of the many examples of the way the staff tried to make things that little bit special.

Our waitor at dinner was lovely (as was the head waiter, who handled my allergies) and we met some great people who shared our table of eight every evening. I think it helped to make the evenings the part of the day I looked forward to most. Getting to know new people is always something I enjoy and we had a brilliant set of couples to talk to over dinner.

Dinner was almost always followed by the evening show, which was another highlight for me. On the first night a very talented male singer faultlessly sung his way through Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera, possibly one of my favourite songs ever, and a few days later did a rendition of Nessun Dorma that had my arms break out in goosebumps. On top of that there was flamenco and some great classical pieces from a whole array of talented entertainers.

If the cruise’s entertainment wasn’t enough there was also excursions most days, and it really did feel like these were just extras. There was so much going on already that you could have stayed on the boat if you wanted and not gone to see the cities on the ship’s tour. They felt a lot like the icing on the cake rather than to main event. although of themselves they were still great too, and visitng so many places meant there was always a little something to find every day. Above to the left is a photo of a replica Dutch galleon recreated by the homeless and unemployed in Amsterdam. I didn’t know whether to be more excited that it was an old ship or that they’d given the task to people who needed it most, but it was the first of many discoveries and moments that made the holiday special.

No holiday of mine is complete without at least one castle, but in 7 trips ashore, I managed to find a castle and two hillforts. The picture to the right is St George’s Castle in Lisbon and was still quite intact considering how old some parts of it where. While we were in Lisbon it got up to 29c so we were very glad to find a few shady courtyards inside, but we also clambered all over the walls, finding ourselves allowed up some very tiny staircases that would definitely have been shut off if the castle was in the UK for health and safety reasons.

In Spain a very pleasant chap explained lots of the local history of the hill fort (Castello) in Vigo and several naval battles that had happened in the nearby bay. This led to the very fortunate realisation that I knew of the naval battle because I’d studied it at some point and was getting to actually see the location it happened it. Always a fun thing to discover.

Finally no adventure on foreign soil would be complete without taking in the views from at least a few places, so here’s one of the better photos. It was taken from one of the highest points in Lisbon after walking all the way up there (we wanted to take the tram but found ourselves almost there before we’d figured the tram system out). There was also the few cases of having to point at drinks and menu items in cafes and pubs to communicate with the local staff when they didn’t speak English and our Spanish was sadly lacking. Although we did end well, managing to communicate with our french waitress in Le Havre well enough to order the right quantity of chips and drinks for our party and get the internet code.

I can also say that the cruise left me very inspired and during the last few days I found myself coming up with a plot idea I really like the sound of and some characters I think might come back to nag at me. It’s only a standalone novel but with a hint of the paranormal and more than a little romance it should make for some fun writing. At the least it’s worth considering going on another cruise to see if I can inspire a sequel or two for it, because of course, any excuse for another cruise.

Lots of New

I’ve got quite a few new things to tell you all today. All of them very exciting.

As the third Sherdan book is about to be released the first two are also moving into their second editions and as such the covers have been re-done. So here’s the very lovely set of all three!

For now the 1st edition print books will still be available, but I’ll make an announcement when the second edition is available. This does also mean it really won’t be long until sherdan’s Country is available in both ebook and print form. The book should go live on Amazon in the next week or two and then be available to pre-order as an ebook.

On top of that exciting news, I also have the awesome announcement that I’m working on a collaboration with the best-selling sci-fi author Tom Harris. We’ve begun writing and I love what we have so far. It’s going to blend his fast-paced action style with my typical adventure with a hint of romance sort of feel to deliver an action packed emotional ride. It’s more urban fantasy than sci-fi, and has a vampire twist, but I’m sure you’ll all love it.

I’m also sure you’ll totally love Tom’s work. I’ve been munching my way through his novels in the Human Chronicles series and he’s just released the first novel in a new series, that you can find on amazon.com or .co.uk and pictured to the left. For today and tomorrow it’s discounted 40% so snap a copy up quickly. I’ve got mine!

I’m sure we’ll announce the title and all sorts of other exciting details about our collaboration soon, so look out for more info on that and Sherdan’s Country over the next few weeks.

The Citizen: A Review

This is an ebook I was given by the author, Matthew McCollum in return for my review.

This is a shorter novel told in first person present, which is handled well throughout the book, and a sort of conspiracy spy sort of story.  The main character is on the run from the goernment and the chapters flip between present day and two years earlier, when it all began.

The start of this story wasn’t as good as the end as I felt it focused a little too much on masses of conspiracy theories and possiblities and it felt a little like it was ramming home the idea that guns should be allowed in the US, something that I find bizarre when I’m in UK and we’ve never had guns available. But when it got past that part it really felt like it could be a believable theory for what’s going on.

I noticed my pet peeve, of the phrase ‘I could care less’ over ‘I couldn’t care less’ at one point in the book as well, but it was only the one occasion.

The book’s not perfect but it kept me entertained and I wanted to keep reading. The end was also interesting and much better than I was expecting. I’d definitely consider reading more if there was a series of them.

Character Spotlight: Cathal

For this character spotlight I thought I’d focus on my dragon, Cathal. He’s one of the two POV’s in the short story Wandering to Belong. As usual I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum but if you’ve not read the story you may wish to before reading this.

Because the story mostly focuses on Aneira and the goblin horde I didn’t get to provide very much of a background on this character and in truth I’m not sure I entirely know it all. Cathal has a very closed personality and knows his own mind well, but that’s pretty much to be expected from the fact that he is the last dragon alive that he’s aware of and he’s lived a very long time.

He’s the sort of person/creature to ask more questions than he answers and to keep a watchful eye on things around him, interfering when he deems it necessary but not before.

As detailed in the story with Aneira he has some magical abilities the standard human doesn’t. He can gift the dragon form ability on to anyone he desires, although this has a limited use (not stated in the story). While he uses it to give Aneira the home she’s always wanted and ensure neither of them are the last of their kinds, the gift was originally given to dragons so they could find mates among whichever race they wished. Although it doesn’t state it in this story, this was done by Tanayth, to try and ensure they didn’t die out.

Over the many years on this planet they’ve turned all sorts of races, including elves into dragons (yes I do plan to tell some of those stories at some point) which is why Cathal can also heal others and has some resistance to the poison the goblins use. Elves have been gifted certain powers by Tanayth as well.

Cathal is several hundred years old in this book and unless I change my mind really is the last of the dragons. I mostly want them to be in the past when it comes to the majority of fantasy stories set in this world so I’m limiting them somewhat. Otherwise I’m going to end up with one very all powerful creature.

Character Spotlight: Alexander Hayes

Also known as Captain Hayes, this is the male counterpart character in With Proud Humility. As I said with the last one of these I did. If you haven’t read the book already it might be worth checking it out at the above link. I will try to keep spoilers at a minimum but the point of these blogs is that they are extras to compliment the books I write.

With Proud Humility is the first of my published novels and the basic idea popped into my head while I was in the shower one day. The initial section that came to me was the meeting between Hayes and Marie and then the bit, a couple of months down the line when they are on the island and there’s that big decision moment for Hayes that he’s forced to make by the villian. The story and characters sort of grew out of there really but I think I owe the inspiration to a couple of people.

I’d decided that I wasn’t really going to write any more not long after I got to Uni and it wasn’t until a friend called Dan asked why I stopped that I realised I didn’t really know why. I’d always loved writing and nothing had changed.

Captain Hayes

Hayes was soon making himself known and sharing space in my head and while I was getting to know him I realised he was a bit of a cross between Jack Sparrow and another friend of mine called Dylan (who happened to be pretty good friends with Dan). Although, he ended up a lot more like Dylan and a bit like Sean Bean by the time I’d finished and less like Jack Sparrow.

Dylan, Dan and me played and MMO called Puzzle pirates (featured right) and Dylan was our Captain, which is, I suppose, where the resemblance came from. But Sean Bean is definitely who I’d want to play him if Hollywood ever decided to turn my swashbuckling epic into a film.

When I first had Hayes in my head I thought he was going to be my antagonist and Vane would be a very minor character but as I explored the characters further I realised he would have this major turning point where he would choose something good over something evil and I couldn’t condemn him to the depths of evilness.

Despite this book being almost completely written from Marie’s POV I always seemed to know what Hayes was thinking, even when Marie didn’t. I probably knew him and his ambitions and goals better than I did her. Something about this character just spoke to me.

He had seen a lot of life before ever meeting Marie and seemed quite happy doing his own thing and being his own boss. His crew adore him and know they’ll fare well, get paid well, and have plenty of adventure along the way. Like Marie he wasn’t entirely happy with the way his social class worked and didn’t respond well to the expectations of his parents. This led to him leaving home and buying his first ship at an early age.

I don’t think Hayes and Marie really realised it themselves, but this probably led to him falling in love with her. She was everything his mother wasn’t. She bucked the trend, did what she wanted and although she infuriated him for not just falling in with his plans, she also proved she wanted similar things to him. To be free to be herself in a social class full of rules and regulations.

Hayes is one of those sorts of people that’s able to adapt to anything. He thinks fast and nothing much fazes him, except being disobeyed, so he’ll be pretty calm and collected no matter what happens.

He’s got boundaries (evidenced by how un-harshly he treats Marie about half way through the book) but he is willing to sacrifice a few things to reach his goals. Probably because he understands the rules are different in 19th century Caribbean compared to 19th Century England. The Caribbean is cuthroat and only the strong survive.

Oh and on top of that he’s an excellent sword-fighter. Well, you’d kinda have to be wouldn’t you? With all those ship to ship battles and the boarding that would be required. Thankfully sword-fighting was something any respectable gentleman could learn when growing up and it was considered to be the height of fashion to wear the cutlass when going about England. One of the few useful things about being in the first class. Although, he takes this a step further when he teaches Marie but he did it as much for himself as her. It was his way of saying he also didn’t agree with society and it’s ridiculous rules, which was the one major thing Marie and him have in common.

Wreck It Ralph: A Review

I’m a bit of a computer game geek so was pretty thrilled when a new film was announced about the bad guy in an aracde game no longer wanting to be a bad guy. This was one of those films I made sure I saw in the cinema, although I do want to have a little moan at the Odeon in Bath for having no showing in the evening on a Wednesday that me and my friends could get to in time after work. Also the Vue nearby which did have a viewing when we checked the Monday before suddenly didn’t when we checked again on the Tuesday! We had to drive into Bristol to see the film.

Eventually I got to see this film and I’m so glad I did. It was a great laugh and very retro. The oneliners even made a joke about what being retro meant!

Wreck it Ralph was fantastic and unintentionally wreaked havoc everywhere he went, all because he wanted to party with the good guys.

In this film the games in the arcade are all connected by a hub (the inside of the extension lead sockets) and all the characters can meet up with each other. Wreck It Ralph decides to go awol and try some other games. Introducing us to the woman just to the right of Ralph in the picture above (not the little girly on this shoulder, the other one). Her lines were fantastic, my favourite being – ‘Doomsday and Armageddon just had a baby and it… is… ugly!’

In terms of the plot etc. It was a pretty standard kids film. Main character tries to be something else because he’s bored with who he is, goes off on an adventure to try and find what he wants to be and realises he’s awesome the way he is. Goes back home with a new bunch of friends.

On top of that the soundtrack was amazing, even the credit songs at the end were awesome. So awesome we sat and listened right up until the end (sorry cinema cleaner upper person, we know we kept you waiting). I’m definitely getting both film and soundtrack.

The Moon Dwellers: A Review

I was given a free copy of this Young Adult Sci-Fi ebook by the author David Estes in return for my review.

It’s taken me a little while to figure out exactly what I think of this book. I got into the storyline very quickly and adore the characters, even though I feel a little old to be reading this genre now.

The style threw me for the first page or two and then again every time I picked the book back up again. It was a sort of present tense first person which struck me as a little odd because most books are written in third person and a mix of predominently past tense with a little present tense in description and action. I also noticed almost all dialogue had some kind of tag like says, asks etc. but oddly enough this didn’t break up the flow of the dialogue like it normally does and I think this quirky style had something to do with it.

Had I been looking to buy this book myself and tried the sample as I usually do I don’t think I’d have bought the book, but I actually think I’d have missed out. The style makes it feel like it’s a young kid who wrote it and I have to admit I checked out the author’s bio to check for sure that an adult had written it. For its target audience it’s perfect, which is why this book got the full five stars from me.

I also liked the hunger games/city of ember style vibe and plot and I’ll be adding the rest of the series to my to-read list. If you liked reading the hunger games books this is a pretty good equivalent in terms of writing style and setting.

Nation: A review

This is one of few books recently by Terry Pratchett that’s not part of the Discworld series.

The usual amazing humour of Pratchett comes out straight away in this novel and it’s easy to fall in love with the quirky larger than life characters. The main character Mau, comes back from his manhood right of passage to find his village gone, thanks to a massive tidal wave, as such he doesn’t complete the usual rituals and is officially neither a man or a boy. He has to struggle with both this and being the only person left alive from his tribe, as well as many other things along the way.

To begin with I really enjoyed the book. The two main characters were cute and everything made sense but from about half way through there started to be more of a mention of spirits, religion and science related stuff and I just got the feeling that the author’s own opinions on these things came through a bit too strongly. It’s very hard to strike a balance between these subjects and not overbear one way or another and I just don’t feel it fully worked in this case.

I expected the tribal villagers to have some concept of spirits but I think it just went too far from the norm in that respect.

Plot wise I felt the ending was a little rushed and convenient. Unlike the Discworld books when there’s bad guys to fight there’s usually a fair amount of tension but for some reason I didn’t feel too tense reading this except for a few moments during one part of a fight.

Still pretty good but just not Pratchett’s best.

Beyond the Deep (GCPU 3): A Review

I’ve reviewed both the first and second book in this series before and really enjoyed them so I picked up this third one pretty quickly and I wolfed it down in only one sitting.

It carries on from where the second one stopped without really missing a beat and finally brought this particular plot arch to a close. There were some great plot devices in this one and it was definitely my favourite of the three. I also really liked how the author tied in the events that were happening in the area at the time to make it feel more real.

There were also some plot twists I actually didn’t see coming and cool gadgetry James Bond style. I’ve totally fallen in love with the main characters and I think the writing style of the author is going from strength to strength. Definitely the best book so far in what’s turned out to be a great series.

Here’s me hoping there are some more to come and with the few bits of plot left untied I’m fairly sure there will be.

The Adventures of Tintin: A Review

I got really annoyed I missed this film at the cinema but thankfully I got to see it recently anyway.

Tintin was one of those cartoons I watched and loved as a child and thankfully I really wasn’t dissapointed with the film. With the director and writer I expected the film to be quite serious so for the first 20 minutes or so I felt a little confused with a few events but as soon as I realised the film was trying to be taken much more light heartedly and with quite a bit of tongue in cheek humour I found myself transfixed.

The casting surprised me but was actually pretty good. Daniel Craig made a very good bad guy (as brits usually do) and Tintin was so spot on I couldn’t have asked for me. My slight dissapointment lay in Andy Serkis. Very occasionally something came out of Haddock’s mouth that made me think Gollum. I can’t decide if that’s because the actor’s voice difference wasn’t good enough or because I’ve only actually heard his voice as Gollum before.

Overall I really really liked this film and still feel a bit gutted I didn’t get to see it at the cinema. I’ll be buying it as soon as I can as I think it’s definitely worth watching again.