Fates and Furies – a Review

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fates and Furies divided our book group – an even split between those who loved and hated it. I fell into the former camp, as I adored the book.

Lauren Groff’s tale tells the story of a marriage and how different it is to the two protagonists. The first part of the book ‘Fate’ tells the story from the husband’s point of view. Lancelot Satterwhite comes from a wealthy background but manages to alienate himself from his widowed mother. His marriage to Mathilde drives further distance between the two, but after a shaky start to his working life, after his mother cuts him off, Lancelot (or Lotto) discovers a talent for playwriting and establishes a wildly successful career, albeit with a few hiccups along the way.

When he dies, the viewpoint shifts to Mathilde, and it here the book becomes splendid. Nothing that seemed like luck or fate happened to Lotto. His wife was there all the time, working behind the scenes to manipulate circumstances – mostly in Lotto’s favour. She engineered their first meeting and marriage. She put in place obstacles to stop him reconciling with his mother. She re-wrote and edited his plays – a lot of the time he wrote them while drunk, so was unable to tell when Mathilde tidied them up – and she even managed to get his fiercest critic on board. And yet, Mathilde comes across as very sympathetic, a difficult, flawed woman dealing with a hugely ego maniac of a husband. (Who is also pretty likeable, incidentally.)

While my book group felt the writing was beautiful, we differed on our opinions about the story’s sensationalism. Did Mathilde’s story need to be quite so dramatic and terrible? (We later find out she was thrown out of her house as a child by her parents after an accident.) I didn’t mind the dramatisation, but perhaps the really brilliant story is that of two very ordinary people living together for years, and yet not really knowing each other?

There are plenty of twists and turns, and I do love a page-turner so the book appealed to me. I read it in three days. Read it and join the conversation!

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And That Includes You, Fatty

Image result for vampire teeth

Picture thanks to Rikard Elofsson

A sample chapter from something I’m working on… (Slight adult content, so stop reading now if you don’t like that kind of thing.)

Her life with Cordelia had been straightforward so far – straightforwardly bloody, the satisfaction of three different, ferocious appetites. Once upon a time, Eve had been meek and mild. Thin and apologetic, her speech was littered with modifiers and qualifiers.

“Do you think… I don’t mind if you’d rather… only if you feel that’s the best idea… well, it’s only a suggestion, I don’t know if I’m really qualified to comment…”

She’d loved those first few months of vampirism. It was all take, take, take. She grabbed people and sucked the life from them, she broke off great slabs of cake and stuffed them into a greedy, gaping mouth, she held the back of her lover’s head in her hands and shoved it between her legs.

Life was very good indeed.

Now? Now it seemed more complicated. Vampires that saw her as different and thus didn’t like her. The mysterious Firm hard on their heels. Some mysterious prophecy she could only guess at. No doubt, it would be your typical prophecy, predicting doom and gloom but worded in an ambiguous way so that believers couldn’t be too disappointed when it didn’t come true.

“I’m Mathilde,” the woman stepped out of the doorway. “Let me look at you, you magnificent creature.”

Aldric and Arnaud frowned at her enthusiasm, Eve noted. Mathilde was an age somewhere between the old man and the young one. She shared Arnaud’s dark hair and swarthy complexion, and his large, almost-black coloured eyes. She was very small, but then Eve remembered reading that the average height of people hundreds of years ago was much shorter than the average height now.

She got to her feet. Again, the clothes were another aspect of vampire life she loved. As a human, Eve stuck to the recommendations for a capsule wardrobe – crisp white shirts, tailored trouser suits, cashmere twin sets and that kind of thing.

Eve the vampire was much more theatrical. “Be a goth!” Cordelia said when they’d both gone shopping for her new, larger body. “You will look incredible!”

Today, she was wearing some of those purchases – a dark-purple velvet Gothic jacket with lace in-sleeves over a calf-length fishtail skirt in the same colour, laced up with ribbons at the back over her bottom, and suede skin-tight boots.

Mathilde made her twirl in a circle before her, touching her lightly. Light touch, nonetheless, she felt the strength and power in those finger tips. Proof once more of the strength vampires gained the longer they stayed alive.

“I love fashion!” She plucked at the in-sleeves and smiled at Eve. “…though this confuses me. It’s not modern, surely? I think you’re a very young vampire, aren’t you? Why are you wearing this old stuff?”

Cordelia sighed. “Mathilde. Nowadays, people like to ape the fashion of yesteryears. Eve is wearing steampunk Gothic. People love that look these days.”

Mathilde nodded slowly. “Good to know. I don’t like to make a fool of myself when I visit couturiers.”

Mathilde had been visiting couturiers for two centuries now. Aldric allowed it as being thin, pale-skinned and aloof, Mathilde didn’t stick out in the high fashion world. And she only bit designers who weren’t destined for greatness. They weren’t missed.

“I don’t believe that prophecy for a second,” Cordelia had risen from her chair

“Don’t you?” Mathilde turned to face her, her expression suddenly hostile. “You keep coming back to the west country, though don’t you? Interesting that this is the first time in years you’ve chosen to come and see us.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes.

“Two hundred and fifty years of kindness and hospitality!” Mathilde was on a roll. “You ungrateful little bitch.”

With a sudden movement, she flicked out a hand, the gesture enough to send Cordelia flying across the room.

Aldric gave a sigh, but didn’t recriminate her.

“Hey!” Sensing that this wasn’t a fight she would win, Eve backed off Mathilde and the instinct to thump her, hurrying instead to Cordelia’s side and helping her to her feet.

Cordelia grasped her hand. “No matter.” She waved aside Eve’s concern.

“Mathilde refers to something a woman once said before we killed her.”

Arnaud produced another bottle of the fine red wine they’d been drinking and topped up all the glasses. “Yes, I think she was the last victim we despatched together, wasn’t she Cordelia?”

For the first time, Eve began to feel jealous. Arnaud had kept his eyes on Cordelia almost all the time they’d been together in the room. At first, Cordelia had seemed to resolutely keep her gaze averted from his but Eve noticed that now she kept darting looks at him.

Vampire sexuality was fluid, Cordelia often told her. She’d never talked about vampire fidelity, though. The discomfort Eve felt was all too human, reminding Eve of her last boyfriend and the unease she’d experienced whenever he went on a night out with his friends. Carl loved women so much he couldn’t help himself. That was the excuse he gave Eve and expected her to sympathise.

Disturbed by her feelings, Eve concentrated on the present. “What did she say, this woman? That prophecy?”

“Oh, some nonsense –”

“Unlike horoscopes or the rubbish peddled by so-called mediums,” Mathilde broke in, “this lady was precise in her prediction. She gave a date when Cordelia and ‘all her kind’ would be wiped out and by whom.”

Mathilde moved forward so she was standing in front of Eve once more. She cradled Eve’s cheek in her palm. “That means you too, fatty.”

With that, Cordelia exploded. “Do not dare insult Eve!”

She vaulted in front of Eve, pushing her out of the way and grabbed Mathilde by the shoulders, shaking her so hard Eve could hear rattling. Maybe it was her brain. Maybe it was her teeth clashing against each other in her jaws.

Eve didn’t care. Watching someone punish another for insulting you insulated you from finer feelings that might object to physical harm.

Mathilde put up with Cordelia’s ministrations for a while, before growling – a long, deep noise that came from her throat and raised the hairs on the back of Eve’s neck. Aldric and Arnaud, she noticed, didn’t seem unduly bothered by the fight.

“Leave me alone,” Mathilde’s words hissed out, the French accent much stronger.

Aldric stood up, his hands held palms up. “Enough, Cordelia. We have established that my daughter and grandson have no manners.” He dismissed their glares with a wave of the hand. “They concentrate on the minutiae when we have bigger issues to discuss – do we not?”

Again, those hands went out to the side in supplication. Eve could not decide if she was terrified of him or if he was an ally. He turned his head slightly to smile at her and she started. Was mind-reading a trick of old vampires too? She concentrated on clearing her head.

Aldric had taken hold of Cordelia’s hand, taking it between his. Eve blinked. Depending on the light, those hands looked quite different. For a second, she’d been given an X-ray view, skeleton hands overlaid with what looked like lizard skin. Then, they changed instantly, back to ordinary, old man’s hands, large and pink-skinned.

The hands moved and he held up one finger in front of Cordelia’s face. “First, we discuss what you did to create dear lovely Eve, here.” He turned slightly and nodded at Eve, who suddenly found herself overcome with curiosity. She hadn’t questioned her vampire existence until this point and now there seemed to be a mystery, or at least something out of the ordinary about it.

“And then we talk about Gregor and the prophecy.”

He dropped Cordelia’s hands and looked hard at her.

“Do you agree, my dear?”

Gentle words aside, Eve recognised a command when she heard it. It was no surprise when Cordelia nodded her head.

“Eve, can you sit down?” she looked apologetic. “I need to explain something.”

©Emma Baird 2017

 

 

The Modern-Day Super Power

And today’s challenge is… I listened to a podcast earlier, where the guest was Tim Ferris known for books such as The Four Hour Body/Working Week and others.

During the podcast, which centred on self-improvement, he quoted someone who’d come up with the line that in today’s world, if you are able to focus on one thing only for two to five hours, it’s the modern-day equivalent of a superpower.

What do you get if you focus solely on one thing for two hours, then? I’m on a mission to find out. When I write, I seldom, if ever, complete any piece of writing without doing something else at the same time.

Mostly, I’m listening to the radio. But I’m also watching the email icon, and if I get a new e-mail, I’ll come out of Word and read it. Then, I might write something and feel the need to look stuff up—whether it’s fact checking or the thesaurus as I seek an alternative to a word I keep using. Or I’ll just look up anything random that pops into my mind.

There’s one piece of work I do every week that I never manage to write without doing something else. I wander off to see if my cat wants attention, or I check on the washing hanging outside. I fold up clothes or change the sheets on my bed. As I don’t find the work inspiring at all, it’s an effort to finish it. It would be much less of an effort if I just concentrated, wrote the whole lot at once and got it over and done with.

Ah, procrastination… thine embodiment is the writer.

The radio? Switch it off. My inbox? Close the mail app. Checking things—highlight them as a reminder to verify or refine after the words have been written. Housework? It will wait.

Here goes…

 

Pic thanks to Topher McCulloch on flickr

 

Amazon Ads: An Update

I set up an Amazon ad for a book of mine recently as an experiment. I’d listened to a webinar on the subject, hosted by Joanna Penn of the Creative Penn, and Mark Dawson of the Self-Publishing Formula.

As it’s relatively cheap—you only pay for the ads that get clicked on—I thought I’d give it a go. My Book Katie and the Deelans has not sold well on Amazon. There are millions of books out there, and the competition is fierce. I wanted to give the book a chance to stand out a little more.

I opted for the ads that appear when you type in certain search terms, such as ‘harry potter’ and JK Rowling, as my book is similar. I paid for fifteen keywords in total, $0.50 per keyword.

I let the advert run for ten days. In that time, it made 134,212 impressions (i.e. the number of times it was seen), resulted in 49 clicks, and cost me $12.97. No sales, though!

I did learn from my experience. Not that many people clicked on the ad in the first place, suggesting it wasn’t that appealing. Was the wording wrong, or as I suspect, the cover not attractive enough?

Those who did click didn’t buy. I did re-write the blurb half way through the campaign, but that didn’t make any difference. I also got rid of the book’s prologue, as it didn’t relate entirely to the whole book so anyone sampling the contents might not have got the right feel for the book.

What about social proof? The book has five-star reviews, but not enough reviews in general. Reviews are what most buyers want these days, especially if you’re an unknown quantity.

I’ve known for a long time the book needs sorting. It needs rewriting, and it needs copy editing. It could do with a new cover and a different blurb. The Amazon campaign reinforced all these points.

Would I use Amazon ads again? Absolutely. I certainly plan to use it for the next book. I did find out what were the most useful keywords from my list of fifteen (JK Rowling, harry potter and Rick Riordan). The campaign didn’t cost me a lot of money, and it was worth finding out about.

*Pic thanks to the Blue Diamond Gallery

 

The Girls: A Review

The Girls in the GardenThe Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Girls* is a gripping read. I’ve read most of Lisa Jewell’s books over the years, and her latest novel is an accomplished achievement. As a writer, she just gets better and better.

The book tells the story of a family who move into a flat in London, which shares a large garden with the properties of other families. The story is mostly told from three viewpoints: that of the 12-year-old daughter, Pip; her mother; and a woman who is a long-term resident.

It starts with the discovery of Pip’s older sister Grace in the garden, unconscious and half naked. The story then moves back to the arrival of the family in the area, and how they adjust to their new lives and living with their new neighbours.

Jewell is known for writing intelligent women’s fiction, and this book is no exception. It has a crime fiction element to it too. Who attacked Grace and why? The final revelation is a surprise, and the author cleverly sets up a few red herrings on the way. Themes that run through the book include trust and adolescence. How would three girls, home-schooled and growing up in a close community react to strangers coming in?

My only minor criticism would be that Pip’s letters to her dad sound a little too grown-up from time to time. There’s the odd word or phrase that’s too adult. Having said that, through her depiction of Tyler and the three Howe girls, Jewell portrays fantastic characters and demonstrates a great understanding of what it’s like to be a teenage girl.

*The book I read was called The Girls, not The Girls in the Garden. Maybe it has a different title outside the UK.

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Storyworks Monthly Issue One: A Review

Storyworks Monthly #1Storyworks Monthly #1 by Stephen J Carter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Storyworks Monthly is an ambitious work. The author states at the outset that he wants to offer a cross-section of his writing, fiction and non-fiction, in multiple genres and story lengths. He’s modelled it on Smith’s Monthly and notes with amazement (as do I) that pulp fiction writers often produced upwards of one million words a year.
Storyworks Monthly is a collection of well-written and well-crafted short stories, novellas and the first part of a science fiction novel. The novella, Ship of Remnants, was far and away my favourite. The pacing was superb and I hope the author takes this story further, developing it into a full-length novel. There’s plenty of scope for that. There was also story about a retired Roman general that I enjoyed. Again, I felt this was a story and a character I wanted to know more about.
Stephen concludes with advice about writing, which is very useful for the aspiring novelist. He concentrates on how to structure a plot, starting with what you do at the beginning and taking popular films as his examples.
All and all an interesting and informative read.
Please note: I received a review copy.

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Review of Thornfield Hall

Thornfield HallThornfield Hall by Jane Stubbs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I was apprehensive at first, as I read Jo Baker’s Longbourn last year, a book that shared the same premises. The two books take classical stories and re-tell them from the viewpoint of the servants, Thornfield Hall is based on Jane Eyre, and Longbourn on Pride and Prejudice. As Jo Baker had already done it so well, I didn’t think Jane Stubbs would be able to match her book.

The books were only published three months apart, which seems to suggest both authors thought up the idea at the same time.

But back to Thornfield Hall. The narrator is the housekeeper, Alice Fairfax – herself a member of the gentry according to her mother’s strict specifications, who is forced into servitude through poverty. Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester are no longer main characters and instead the under classes shine. The Brontes used genteel poverty as a theme in their books, and frequently highlighted the limited choices available to women. Stubbs does the same with Alice Fairfax, neatly noting Jane Eyre’s own prejudices and snobbery towards her.

Bertha – the madwoman in the attic – is presented very sympathetically in this interpretation, as is her nurse Grace Poole. Jane Stubbs suggests a plausible and witty interpretation of what actually happened when Thornfield House burned down. She also gives Rochester a less than sympathetic character, particularly relating to his behaviour in the West Indies.

The ending felt very satisfying. The good received their just rewards – not just Jane Eyre, and the servants managed to get one over their masters. Excellent stuff.

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Debut Novel Giveaway at Edinburgh Festival

weekend limited copiesROLAND Tye’s debut novel, Weekender, will officially be published by Comely Bank Publishing on 19 September. Advanced copies are currently available from selected bookshops.

Weekender follows various characters over a weekend set in Edinburgh’s recent past, the story moving from one character to the next as their paths cross. Over three days it explores a city of contrasts: sex, drugs, violence, love, family, betrayal, redemption and despair.

Roland, who was born in Edinburgh in 1979, originally thought of the idea back in 2000 and the journey to publication has been as compelling as the novel itself.

Roland said: “I never imagined it would take this long to get Weekender finished and published.

“They say writing a novel can be a long journey but I seem to have taken it to a new level! A huge thanks goes to the amazing people at Comely Bank Publishing who turned my dream into a wonderful reality.”

THE CAMPAIGN

As it’s festival time and Edinburgh is chock full of artistic and literary talent, Roland is embarking on a promotional campaign over a weekend (obviously!) that will see limited edition copies pop-up around the city between 19th and 21st August.

The aim is get Weekender travelling around the world, with finders asked to read their copy and then leave it where someone else will pick it up.

People will be able to log and track the journey on social media using the hash tags, #discoverweekender #ifoundweekender, and also @weekendernovel, and @comelybankpub

Comely Bank Publishing was set up by author, Gordon Lawrie, in 2012 to give Scottish writers additional options for self-publishing and for writers to share their experiences and expertise. It’s a publishing co-operative that creates opportunities for Scottish authors to publish works of interest using 21st century publishing options, including eBooks and print-on-demand.

Gordon said: “I set up Comely Bank Publishing because I genuinely believe that too many authors are failing to have their works published.

“The future of literature can only be saved if bright new talent is nurtured as it used to be.

“Here at Comely Bank Publishing, we want to share our experiences so that others who want to self-publish can benefit from what we have learned along the way.”

Other Comely Bank Publishing Titles include Four Old Geezers and a Valkyrie by Gordon Lawrie, The Man from Outremer by Dave Burke, Katie and the Deelans by Emma Baird, and Our Best Attention by Jane Tulloch.

 

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/1282229931795190/

http://www.comelybankpublishing.com/writers-diaries/discover-secret-copies-of-weekender-at-this-years-edinburgh-festival

For more information and to obtain high-resolution pictures, please emailrolandtye@comelybankpublishing.com or phone 07979 121150

 

 

Comely Bank Publishing is based at:

Comely Bank Publishing, 87/6 Comely Bank Avenue, Edinburgh EH4 1EU

Email: info@comelybankpublishing.com

Telephone: (+44) 0131 332 3470

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