Wednesday, 21 May 2014

So What! Stories or Whatever!

So What!  Stories or Whatever!

By G.J. Griffiths

2 out of 5

STORIES FROM THE CLASSROOM! HOW DO THEY SURVIVE? WHETHER STUDENT, TEACHER OR PARENT THEY WILL HAVE YOU LAUGHING OR CRYING! Waterloo Road or Grange Hill meet Gervase Phinn - well maybe! Whether you love this book or hate it you will have to admit that the stories about its characters will stay in your memory for a long time. With over twenty years teaching experience behind him, G J Griffiths has brought to the reader some of the stories about the children he taught, in this amusing and often poignant book. Parents, teachers, pupils and students will all recognise the characters and their tales. All through the book we are made aware of the joys and disappointments experienced by their teachers, Mr Jeffrey and his colleagues. With the ever-present controversy about changing the education system (again!) this is a timely illustration of what is to be found in the classrooms of the contemporary High School.

Slow to start, but the second half runs smoother.  I can see this appealing to those that want to relive their teaching days.

Normally I give a mini-synopsis at the start of a review; as well as being a nice round-up, it helps remind me remember what the story is about.  Unfortunately, I couldn't work out what this was about beyond school.
There was no story.

So What!  is described as a "collection of school stories".  Which implies mini-stories, which logic would dictate have beginnings, middles and ends.  The different stories might intersect, share information and timelines; their might be running jokes or themes; but they are different stories.  Beginning.  Middle.  End.

Unfortunately, G.J. Griffiths has taken everything above and thrown it into a huge mixing pot.
I feel I need a diagram to explain the timeline.  Everything is the present, except for when its six years in the future or three months ago; or was it the other way round.  There are times in the chapters where one paragraph plays today, the next visits nine years ago - but the voice is still in the present tense.  Then the next time there's a skip,  it's in memory form, so the voice is recounting in past tense.  There is no consistency!  And often no reason for a time skip!
If you want to read a good example of time skipping, and use of reflections, try Existence is Futile or The Time Traveller's Wife.

The time skips completely ruined any chance of relationships developed.  Robert and his wife are a prime example.  The book starts with us knowing that Robert is married.  Then it's back to the past where he acknowledges there's a woman called Jenny at school he fancies.  Then it goes off on a tangent.  Then skips.  Then Robert changes school.  Then he went on a date with Jenny and two years later they were married.
That is almost how it is laid out, very staccato, where we are told everything.  There was no fluidity, no detail, no feeling of "What if?".  We are given the conclusion before the question is even asked.

Then there's the perspectives.  There are far too many.  It centres mainly on Mr Jeffrey/Robert - he is our main character.  But the book starts with the kids.  Then it switches to other teachers and heads of year etc for no real reason.  Again, this could work well if the book was broken up - say chapter one told the story of the kids' homework.  Chapter two told the story of the headmaster.  Then I could understand the switching between so many characters, and their would be logic, and I wouldn't be feeling lost and confused every other paragraph.

Then we have the whole tone of big sections of the book.  Something that I could have overlooked if I wasn't already in a fairly annoyed state by the previous points.
There are parts that feel like "Teaching 101", giving us the pointers and breakdown of how to give a certain look, or what phrases to use.  How to stand, and hold yourself.  I found myself wishing that the author had approached it a little differently - sure you want to express the nuances of teaching (after teaching for 14 years myself, I get it), but if this book is supposed to be entertainment, can't the people discussing this have a little character?  This would have been a perfect opportunity for an Alan Partridge-esque character to be giving teaching tips.
Instead all the characters were flat and merged into one.  The adults were all amiable and agreeing.  I will admit the children had a bit more colour to them.
Even Mr Jeffrey felt... ok, honestly, I couldn't read it without thinking of a certain prick of a teacher I had at A Level (who shall be known only as CP).  Coincidently, CP was a science teacher too.  He was the best there was, and I mean table-thumping, hearty-cheer best.  No other opinion could possibly match up to his expertise.  He stood at the front of the class and played the role of teacher, knowing exactly how to put his foot down and shout when he found a victim; and when to give that practised look.  It's only fair to point out that I used to correct CP's daily mathematical mistakes; and although he thought the other teachers were laughing with him, the truth was a little harsher.
Sorry, I digress.  Back to Robert.  The way he was written it was like a gratuitous biography.  My Jeffrey had learnt how to put his foot down, he would punish the disruptive child from his colleague's class, because she couldn't manage him.  Or he would give that perfect look that would command respect.  Again, we are told all this about Robert with no modesty.  Can't he be imperfect?  Clumsy?  Or OCD?  Can't he have a hint of uncertainty?

Right, I'm going to go read Flour Babies to cheer myself up.

Goodreads link

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Paperback and Free Book

Good morning people!
So I have been sitting on something very exciting for the past month.  If you all look to the photo to your left, it might give a little clue.  And no, it's not to do with the new lamp I picked up for my new house (although I got a little giddy about that also).
I have indeed joined the ranks of writers that have their work published in print.
I confess that I put my reserved Britishness aside and did a few inelegant jumps around the living room when my copy came...
(Link to The Shadow Rises)

I have put off hard copies for a while, even though, as I am sure most writers would agree, I wanted nothing more than to see a physical copy.  To have it in my bookshelf, to be able to pick it up.  It seems to make it all that more real.

Why did I put them off?  To answer that, I have to also confess that after a year in the indie publishing world, there is so much still to learn.
When I first published The Shadow Rises, I researched possible hard copy production.  What I found were businesses designed much more for the traditional publishing route.  Those that, unless you ordered a thousand copies, had high costs for short runs.
Problem 1) The possibility that my book (which is only about 200 pages long) would cost between £5 - £10 to make.  I could never expect people to fork out that much for a skinny little paperback book by an unknown author.
Problem 2) Geographical limitations - so let's say I am armed with my 100 copies.  What then?  Perhaps if I was still living in London I could find plenty of indie book stores to take them.  But how am I going to guarantee that every witch-hunter, paranormal-loving individual is living within a 20 mile radius?  Because I can't distribute any further, unless I quit my job and spend my time pushing it.  But that won't pay the rent (and I am loathe to give up my shiny new house).
It would definitely be a problem in Doncaster - I love the place, it's my home; but it does not know the meaning of "indie book store".  Although to be fair, this little Yorkshire town was ranked the most well read city in the UK this time last year!  The actual news piece in the Telegraph - must read!

So, how did I overcome these two major obstacles?
As some of you will already by shouting at your screen and rolling your eyes at the fact it's taken me a year to find it - CreateSpace
It's a part of Amazon that allows you to create your own paperback, and sell it through the Amazon website.
1) Their production is designed for indie publishers, so their costs are low.  The Shadow Rises is currently selling for £5.99, which is a lower price than I could have hoped for!  Although, despite the higher price, I actually get more royalties from the Kindle downloads.
2) They make them to order, so there is no need for me to be lumbered with 50 unsold copies in my back room!  And not only making them to order, but they produce them in US and European locations, so the delivery is actually free!  Unfortunately, it doesn't help my friends in Australia, but that's their fault for moving out there and not taking me with!

But business sense aside, I don't care if I never sell more than a handful of the paperback books.  I know they will only really appeal to my friends and family; and those people that don't have Kindles yet.  I have the physical copy of my book I've always dreamed of, and that's a pretty good way to start my day.

Oh yes... I believe in the title to this little inner monologue, I put something about a free book.
To celebrate the fact that book 1 is available in print; book 2 will be a free download for this weekend!
The Shadow Reigns (Witch-Hunter #2)

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Blood Tithe

Blood Tithe (Blood Tithe #1)

By Glenn J. Soucy

2 out of 5

At age five, Jeremy is playing with his friend in the woods, outside of a military base in Maine. He falls through an old World War II tunnel, which is half flooded with both water and chemicals from long forgotten scientific experiments. Jeremy is rescued, but his body is forever altered. Soon he discovers that he can gather energy from living things. But his new abilities come with a price...

Jeremy is your average five year old child, until a freak accident that should have killed him, gives him certain powers.
The young boy has to face the fear and distrust of his family, as well as the threat of his nightmares becoming real.

On paper this is just my type of thing and I really wanted to like this book, if not love it. But this is one of those awkward moments when the author is a lovely chap, and I can't offer him a better review.

Don't get me wrong, the writing is very strong, and I can understand why so many have rated it highly. It flows well and would appease the grammar nazis.

But truthfully I couldn't finish it. Oh I tried, I kept coming back to it over the last few weeks, but couldn't get further than half-way.

My main problem was with Jeremy being 5 years old. Soucy has written this in the first person, and it just does not work. Jeremy only felt like a 5 year old in flashes - sure, his actions felt true to his age; but his thoughts were far too mature. What five year old takes note of so much detail? Or describes being out of breath as "having run a marathon"? The book is not a short one, and Jeremy's young/old voice irritated the hell out of me from the first.
It would have worked twice as well if it had been third-party. Or even better if Jeremy had been ten years old, or a teenager. I guess him being a 5 year old gives the story a unique pitch amongst the masses of books with a young hero, but many times throughout the book I was wondering if there was any real reason Jeremy was cast so young. Especially when there are suddenly 6 month lapses, 2 year lapses, and suddenly he's a teenager and the story kicks in again. What's the friggin' rush for him to grow up, if Soucy wanted him so young in the first place?!

My second problem was Jeremy's family.
The dad is fine, he's the military man who has to spend time away, but is the caring and understanding party.
The sister is invisible, a name without any real character until they move Spring Lake and she suddenly becomes the centre of the plot.
But the mum... what mother would be scared of their baby boy? How could any mother keep her distance when her son starts doing weird things, rather than tear the world apart to find an answer?
I will confess, I got a little confused over the era this was set in at first; I thought it was set in the 1950's, with how shut down the mum was. I was a little surprised to find out it was modern - there's this little thing called the internet, easy access to information, whether it's right or wrong. Did none of his family think to research Jeremy's condition? Did Jeremy not think to look up why he was suddenly able to do stuff? Or to research the dodgy Doc?

Right, enough, rant over.
Strangely, in conclusion I would actually read the next in the series, because Soucy's writing is good, and the two glaring problems I have are eradicated in book one.

Goodreads link

Friday, 2 May 2014

Interview with Matthew R Bell

Author Interview:  Matthew R. Bell

About 6 weeks ago, I got to review the debut work from Matthew R. Bell.  Fear of God got 4 out of 5, an impressive rating for any new author. (The review is here, if you wish to nosey)
Unfortunately, as well as being a talented writer, Matthew turned out to be a nice chap as well (some people have all the luck).  So I couldn't help resist claiming his first interview too!

I hope you enjoy the insight into one of our promising new authors.  Please note, that no bribes or blackmail was used in obtaining it.

Congratulations on the release of your first book, where did you come up with the idea for Fear of God?
I first came up the idea when I was 15. I am not ashamed to admit it, but back then I was terrified of events like that in books and films. Of a character being thrown into this horrible situation, losing friends and family, and really it was my worst nightmare. So when I was thinking about it, I really wanted to create something like that, but where the main character bests the world and the demons in it and in himself. So really it started as a fantasy in my brain were I beat all these crazy monsters and didn't die.

What do you have planned next for Lucas?
Lucas grew a lot in Fear of God, but when you have to change like that and cope with this terrifying new world it has a negative effect too. The sequel will see Lucas really struggling after the first novel. He doesn't understand the world any more and he really wants to bring things back to the way they used to be, even though in his heart, he knows he can't. He's very head strong and reckless in the next book, and I'm looking forward to being there as he grows.

Do you have a set number of books for the Trials of Strength series?

Yes, I do. I've always envisioned a trilogy for this series, and the titles will really reflect Lucas's mindset and journey throughout the book. Like the first novel, Fear of God, really focuses on Lucas's journey to overcome fear, and become a strong and resilient person. The God part of the book had many of meanings, he's afraid of dying, he's afraid that if he does, what comes next and he's afraid of the force behind the stories events who are playing God over his town. There may also be a novella based on one of the characters I introduce in the next book who I'm having lots of fun with, and if people enjoy her too, I'd really love to show her back story.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Yes. I've always loved books, thanks to my Mum. I've always had crazy ideas for worlds and characters and it's really a joy to be able to that. For even one person to enjoy what I write really makes my day.

What is your favourite book?

It has to be Lord Loss by Darren Shan. I loved his work growing up, and I still love it today. I have such fun and smiley memories reading his books, and the series Lord Loss is a part of is phenomenal. It's also great what the author does, I don't see many books like his that are specifically written for young readers and think with his writing and talent it brings more young people into reading.

What has been your favourite Indie book?
Now I'm being honest, and it's yours, The Shadow Rises. I love witches and the supernatural, but a lot of the ones I pick up are about good witches falling in love and banishing evil. The Shadow Rises was an awesome dark and gritty novel that showed witches as powerful beings of evil. It really put the situation into a dire aspect as humans pale in comparison to witches, there's an immediacy to it that you don't find often. I also love Hunter, a lot.

What piece of advice would you give other authors in the making?

Write what you want, and the way you want. I see a lot of people publish something and be vastly disappointed. They've tried to copy the market and hope to be instant best-selling authors making lots of money, but as a lot of wise people say, it's not like that. Writing should be something you enjoy, take your time at, craft and excel at it. The rest will fall into place when it does, it might be right away, it might not, but writing is a massive patience game, and you take the good with the bad.

Who has been your best critic?
Right now it's you Miss Marsden, you were the first person I asked and the first person to review my novel, so again a massive thank you. 

What do your family and friends think of you being a published writer?

They think it's great. They hoped to begin with I hadn't got my hopes up high for it to be instantly successful but I explained to them that I knew it would take time, and writing was all I ever really wanted to do, successful or not. They are really supportive, and I couldn't have done it without them. A big shout out to my Mum, and my best-friend Lauren.

What has been the hardest thing about publishing so far?

All the nooks and crannies and pitfalls and conditions. I used Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing and they've been absolutely brilliant, their platform for new writers where it's harder for us to get stuff out there is fantastic. Then come all the things you have to remember and the self promotion you have to do and keep atop of. In the end it's worth it though, it's a journey I'm glad to be on.

With your blog, Goodreads page and Twitter, you have quite the following. How much of a support is your fan-base?

They're awesome. The only thing I want is to write something they enjoy, to make them smile and laugh and cry. It goes for everyone in the writing industry, your fans are the biggest most important thing you have.

Speaking of blogs, yours is diverse enough to include "World War Z" and "13 Going On 30" (spoiler - Matthew rates the latter higher...), do you have a favourite genre?

I love 13 Going On 30 :D I wouldn't say I have a particular genre. I love films that can really grab you, that have a gripping storyline and really make your emotions run rabid. I'm a fan of most genres like sci-fi, thriller, supernatural, rom-coms, anything and everything.

I'd like to thank Matthew for taking time to answer my questions, if you would like to know more, here are all the links you need to stalk to your heart's content:

Goodread page
Matthew's Blog

And don't forget to check out his book: Fear of God