Book Review: ‘Haunted’ by James Herbert

Book review ‘Haunted’

by James Herbert

Rating: 2/5

ISBN-13: 978-0330451574

First Published 1988

 

The book follows the simple idea of a haunted house. David Ash is a psychic investigator who uncovers fake hauntings and has doubts as to the existence of ghosts. His sceptical view stems from a dark childhood secret. He travels to Edbrook, a remote country house, to investigate a haunting and stays with the Mariell family and begins to unravel their family secret.

Ok, so I have not read James Herbert for a while as I was getting fed up with his books. I got this book cheap in a charity shop, which is the best place to get books in my opinion. Or at least until I am an author and my royalties are affected. I had an open mind. Maybe with the passing of time, I would like his books again, maybe I had just read several duff books and this would be the one to bring me back.

The blurb in the dust cover promises that ‘he has taken on the haunted-house mystery story and re-forged it in his own uniquely brilliant and terrifying way.’  Sadly, the book is different to other haunted house stories in that James Herbert uses all the themes that he uses in all of his books, as well as every theme that haunted house films and books have used ever since, well, since houses were haunted.

James Herbert has very limited characters, which was the main reason that I was alienated from his books. All of his major characters in his books are late thirties to early forties, at least in ‘feel,’ if not implicitly stated. The character is always male, heavy smoker and drinker, hiding a bad past. The first pretty female encountered WILL end up in bed with said male character. She will have little character development and be very two dimensional.

Then there is the haunted house; the book reads like a check sheet of what to include. There is the murky pond haunted by a girl, life endangered one moment, then there is no threat, the house owner hiding information about a dodgy past, crazed people hidden from others, the violent dog, the ghost detectors that are not set off, child-like giggling, seeing someone, look again and they are gone, telephones not working, the local pub knowing something dodgy happens at the big house. Ok, you get the picture; there is nothing original in here at all. We’ve seen it all before!

Then there is the mitigation. James Herbert has the skill to form the story. His words leave deep impressions and vivid images. I did keep reading it; there were interesting parts, sadly not enough, and not enough originality. The haunted house is done to death, and it would take an incredible idea to revive it, sadly, ‘Haunted’ does not deliver.

 

Vedict: Unoriginal and disappointing.

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Book Review: ‘The Dwarves,’ by Markus Heitz

Book Review, ‘The Dwarves,’ by Markus Heitz

Published by Orbit Books

ISBN 9781841495729

Verdict: 3/5

Good read but don’t expect anything earth shattering.

‘Dwarves’ is the story of Tungdil, a dwarf brought up by human magi, unaware of his background and family. He studies books, learning about dwarves and their culture and longs to meet them himself.

After a falling out, he is sent to deliver a message, and loves the idea of seeing the wider world. As his journey continues, he discovers a magus, Nudin, has betrayed the others. When he meets with the other dwarves, he finds that they must reforge a weapon, the only way to destroy the evil that resides within Nudin.

On his quest, he is helped by a range of unusual characters, from the fabulous Rodario, an actor, to the maga, Andôkai and her companion, the enigmatic armoured giant, Djerůn. The unlikely friends travel all over Girdlegard to stop the encroachment of the Perished Land and destroy Nudin, but Tungdil must also unify groups who have their own grudges against each other as well as his own party.

So what to say? The book is long at 730 pages, which can be daunting to some people. There are other books is the same world, but this is a complete story. It puts me off when I pick up a fantasy book and see that it is book X of Y. The length takes time to explore the characters and also to explain other points of action. Despite the length, there was never any feel that the book was slowing or intentionally long. It was as long as the story needed to be.

The book ambled at a gentle pace, although I found it harder and harder to put the book down the more I read. Most of the characters I liked and felt for, even one who was whiney. As with most stories that have several characters, there were a couple I did not enjoy, and I felt that the character of Djerůn could have been developed more. It probably did no help that he was not able to talk.

So far, so good. But why only three stars? This was Markus Heitz’s first novel, and since then, he has set several more books in the same fantasy world. I do not know if he has improved, I hope so as I find his work very good. There were some down points, which hindered the story and were silly. The use of ‘orbit’ and ‘cycles’ to replace ‘day’ and ‘year’ respectively made reading at times clunky, and it did not contribute to the story in any way.

The maps at the start of the book looked as if they had been thrown together in five minutes. We are all used to the beautifully crafted maps of Tolkiens Middle Earth, the world of Game of Thrones, Games Workshops’ ‘Warhammer World’, or even the Elderscrolls maps. The map of Girdlegard is very rectangular (it was drawn of A4, I am guessing.) They show a darkened area where mountains are and name the important places that are in the novel. There are no trees to show where the forests are, no rivers, no other important places. It is easy enough to make a map with more detail, even websites for it. So a map is not the most important part of a novel, but it would have contributed more to the atmosphere of the Girdlegard world, rather than making it look cheap.

Another, albeit, minor and personal annoyance, is that the book was translated from German into American English. I know this is because the American audience is larger, but seeing ‘axe’ as ‘ax’ and ‘amour’ as ‘armor’ just gets on my wick.

Now, I come to my biggest grievance, and the reason the book does not get a better score from me. The book is a fantasy book. Let me explain; there is nothing original. Had the book been written in the 1970’s then it would have been ok, but everything in this book we have seen before. The dwarves live in great fortresses underground, they smith, love gems and gold, drink too much and hate elves. The elves live in trees, dislike dwarves and are haughty to non-elves. Every stereotype of fantasy is in the book, so it gives nothing new to fantasy. Even the plot is very contrived. A dwarf does not know his past, magical weapons to kill the bad guy, but first they have to travel far and wide to get it. A mismatched group of travellers who become friends and discover things about themselves. The orcs who don’t seem to be able to kill anything, and throw themselves at the dwarves to get slaughtered.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but only for a reader who wants easy reading, a reader who wants basic run-of-the-mill fantasy. Would I read more of his works? Yes. As I said earlier, it is well written with good characters, and hopefully his experience would remove the negative points I have pointed out.

Book Review: ‘Backwards,’ by Rob Grant

Review of ‘Backwards’

By Rob Grant

Verdict: 4/5

Great for all ‘red Dwarf’ fans

Backwards is a book set in the ‘Red Dwarf’ universe and written by Rob Grant who, along with Doug Naylor, wrote the TV show. Maybe this helps, as he knows the characters and universe so well.

The story begins with the crew of the ‘Red Dwarf’ on a planet that runs backwards. They have to rescue Lister before he goes back so far in time, he becomes and embryo then a lot worse. From there, they fight against the psychopathic robots, the Agonoids. There is also an appearance from one of my favourite smeg heads, Ace Rimmer, much to Arnold Rimmer’s annoyance.

The original characters are neatly captured, with my mind imagining the show’s actors and voices. There are parts of several TV episodes mixed into the writing, and the same humour is very much present. When a world runs backwards, it leaves so many fun possibilities, and among the many fun scenarios mentioned in the book, sex is so much less fulfilling when it ends with the foreplay. Being a book, the author can get away with more than he could on TV, but the gross-out factor is only the worse for it, with everything being in the reader’s mind. Although this is the third in the series of ‘Red Dwarf’, reading the others is not essential as it is easy enough to follow the plot.

Sadly Cat did not have a large enough role, although what he did have was fantastic, I would say more, but I don’t want to spoil it for readers. The crew leave the backwards planet in good time, and the pace does slow and the humour fades, but even that cannot dampen this hilarious book.

‘Barefoot Soldier’ by Johnson Beharry VC

Barefoot Soldier

Johnsson Beharry VC

ISBN978-0-7515-3879-3

Published by Sphere

Verdict: 5/5 – Why haven’t you got this yet?

Some people know Johnson Gideon Beharry as the guy from ‘Dancing on Ice.’ He is, however, much more than that, being the first living recipient of the Victoria Cross in over thirty years. Personally, he is also my greatest living hero. The term ‘hero’ is used for popstars, filmstars, footballers and even reality celebs. Some of theses do have talent, but are not heroic in the way that every British soldier is, and the VC recipients are like gods among heroes.

The book ‘Barefoot Soldier’ is the autobiography of Johnson Beharry, detailing his childhood, early adulthood and the action he saw in Iraq  which led to him gaining the VC. I have read the book before so I knew what to expect, and I also knew that I would enjoy it.

Ishould start with the negatives. It took me a while to think of these but I don’t want to sound like a sycophant. The book could do with an update now; I am not sure if this has happened, but since the VC, he has married, had children and been on ‘Dancing on Ice’. I would love to know more of what direction his career has now taken. After becoming a VC what does a guy do next?

That is possibly the only downside, as the book tackles the trials that Beharry went through all of his life, from an alcoholic father, a slide towards womanising and drinking to some tough times in the army. The book is not an ego trip – Beharry has character flaws as we all do, and he mentions them. He sometimes skived, he drank, he may have turned out worse had it not been for the army. He is modest, as many VC winners are; “just doing my job”.

Being written first person, it delves into Beharry’s mind, something that is missing in history books, news reports and biographies. We get to learn more of who Beharry is and what drove him on. We learn he is really a normal guy who wants a simple life and somehow became a hero.

Who is the book for? I would love everyone to read the book; we can be proud of our British armed forces and the heroes that make them up. He should inspire British children but also the poor and ethnic groups. There is a discussion in the UK about there not being enough black rôle models – here is one of the greatest black heroes I can think of (please don’t argue the point, I write, not discuss race!). Politicians should also read the book to learn about our fantastic armed forces that they seem intent on destroying.

To rate the book, I would have to give it the full marks, and recommend it to everyone and if there are any directors out there, make this into a biopic.

Book Review: “Web of Darkness” by Marion Bradley

Web of Darkness

Marion Bradley

ISBN 0-450-05855-7

Published 1983

Verdict: 1/5

Web of Darkness is the second in the Fall of Atlantis series, although it is can be a stand alone book as well. It follows the story of two sisters and the part they played in the downfall of Atlantis. The two sisters live in a temple, one is a teenage child, the other slightly older.

I had never heard of Marion Bradley, so was not aware that she had written so many books nor of her controversial sex allegations. That probably made it easier to have an open mind when I began the book.

The comments within the covers compare it to Tolkien and there are generally favourable reviews on the internet, but for me, I could not even finish it. Many books I have read which begin badly I struggle through, some improve (The White Witch) while some torture me until the bitter end. For me not to finish the book, it must have been awful. I reached page eighty, of 369 pages. In those pages nothing happened. No really, nothing at all. People walked about and talked. Some went to a temple and some talked. They even slept. And talked, although not at the same time.  Inane conversations, and muttering of love and some people’s places. There was no character development, no excitement and the characters were not even interesting. I did not like the main characters, they were annoying and bland. I also did not like the names, with the main two characters, Deoris and Domaris being too similar so that I was not sure who was whom. I have read many fantasy books, and yet the names in this books seemed too ‘far out’ to understand.

At this point of slating a book, I move onto the bit I liked about the story. Um, yeah. Even the cover was not particularly inspiring.

Conclusion: Good to help the insomniacs.

Book Review: ‘Robin Hood’ by Carola Oman

Book Review:

Robin Hood

by Carola Oman

 

Rating: 4/5

Published By JM Dent & Sons Ltd in 1975 (originally 1949)

ISBN 0 460 02177 X

 

Robin Hood is one of the most famous fictional characters in the world, with his tales dating back into the middle ages. The truth and fiction is mixed up, with theories that he was based on various real people, and tales being collected and changed across the centuries. He is an English hero, among the greats of Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur.

Carola Oman’s book is not one continuous tale, but a collection of stories about Robin Hood collected together with a loose connection. Her tale begins with Sir Richard of the Lee in debt and in danger of losing his lands, where he meets Robin Hood who helps him. Sir Richard makes several more appearances throughout the novel, playing a major part. All of the other characters expected in Robin Hood tales also appear; Little John, Maid Marion, Will Scarlet and of course the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham.

The book begins with Robin already being an outlaw with his band of merry men in the forest of Sherwood. It was written for children, and takes a gentle atmosphere, full of merriment and heroism. It is a nice book, innocent and inoffensive to anyone, as to be expected for children’s books. So it is a child’s book, why did I read it? Because I enjoyed it.  The character of Robin is loveable and infallible, and he is more Errol Flynn than Kevin Costner, swashbuckling his way through the baddies.

Yet it is not perfect. Sometimes the writing is dated, and the speech is almost a stereotype of medieval talk. There are parts that could have had more detail. At one point they go to the Sheriff, but it is only touched upon in a couple of lines of speech. It is a major plot point dismissed in an instant. The tension does feel lacking, probably because of this point. I would also have liked more background on Robin Hood, as I feel it started too late in his story. There are some parts of his background that leave questions open.

 

Verdict: Despite a few shortcomings, it is a fun take on a well used theme.

Book Review: ‘Haunted’ by James Herbert

Book review
‘Haunted’
by James Herbert

Rating: 2/5
ISBN-13: 978-0330451574
First Published 1988

The book follows the simple idea of a haunted house. David Ash is a psychic investigator who uncovers fake hauntings and has doubts as to the existence of ghosts. His sceptical view stems from a dark childhood secret. He travels to Edbrook, a remote country house, to investigate a haunting and stays with the Mariell family and begins to unravel their family secret.
Ok, so I have not read James Herbert for a while as I was getting fed up with his books. I got this book cheap in a charity shop, which is the best place to get books in my opinion. Or at least until I am an author and my royalties are affected. I had an open mind. Maybe with the passing of time, I would like his books again, maybe I had just read several duff books and this would be the one to bring me back.
The blurb in the dust cover promises that ‘he has taken on the haunted-house mystery story and re-forged it in his own uniquely brilliant and terrifying way.’ Sadly, the book is different to other haunted house stories in that James Herbert uses all the themes that he uses in all of his books, as well as every theme that haunted house films and books have used since, well, since houses were haunted.
James Herbert has very limited characters, which was the main reason that I was alienated from his books. All of his major characters in his books are late thirties to early forties, at least in ‘feel,’ if not implicitly stated. The character is always male, heavy smoker and drinker, hiding a bad past. The first pretty female encountered WILL end up in bed with said male character. She will have little character development and be very two dimensional.
Then there is the haunted house; it is like a check sheet of what to include. Murky pond haunted by a girl, having life-threatening experiences happen, then suddenly they are not. The house owner hiding information about a dodgy past to the hero, crazed people hidden from others, the violent dog, the ghost detectors that are not set off, child-like giggling, seeing someone, look again and they are gone. Telephones not working, the local pub knowing something dodgy happens at the big house. Ok, you get the picture; there is nothing original in here at all. We’ve seen it all before!
Then there is the mitigation. James Herbert has the skill to form the story. He does not resort to mindless bloodshed, bludgeoning his readers over the head to force the point that this is horror; he molds the words to be psychologically horrific. His words leave deep impressions and vivid images. I did keep reading it; there were interesting parts, sadly not enough, and not enough originality. The haunted house is done to death, and it would take an incredible idea to revive it. Sadly, ‘Haunted’ does not deliver.

Vedict: Unoriginal and disappointing.

The Tunnel

This is a short story with a religious theme, hope you enjoy 

The Tunnel

            The crash took me by surprise, and I checked myself over. There were a few cuts and bruises, but I felt fine. I crawled out of the car through the window and onto the road, mum and dad were already there.

“Are you ok?” mum asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, although I was shaken.

“Sit at the side of the road for a moment, I need to ask you dad some questions.” I obeyed without arguing, I was too stunned.

The car was a wreck in the ditch, but I did not look too closely, rather sat on a hillock as mum and dad spoke in hushed tones together. In time they returned with half smiles.

“We’re going to wait in the woods for the ambulances and police to turn up,” mum said. Dad led as we crossed through a gap in the trees to where there was a clearing.

It was a gentle place, the sun filtered through the leaves, sending dappled warm light on a the lush green grass where Christmas Roses and Columbines grew. There was the sound of birds calling and singing among the trees, and an aura of calm. A gentle hill marked the edge of the clearing, and a metal bench was opposite, set against the trunk of a large cedar tree. Mum sat on the bench, and I went to the hill.

I saw there was a large animal hole and I peered into it and saw it trailed off into the distance of the mound.

“Dad, we could fit in here, shall we see what’s in here?” I asked. I expected him to say no. We did not know what animal would live in such a large hole.

“Sure, but you go first,” he said. “There may be a monster in there,” he joked.

“Are you coming, mum?” She shook her head.

“You go. I may be along later.” I did not think mum would come, she was not really into getting dirty and would be quite happy sitting in the gentle clearing.

I went first, crawling on hands and knees, I entered the tunnel. I felt a surge of excitement. Although the ground was damp cool mud, it was firm and comfortable. The smell was pleasant, and roots had formed around the walls of the tunnel, but none barred our way. We said nothing as we made out way along the tunnel. Finally I saw some light ahead.

“There’s light ahead,” I mumbled with a furrowed brow. Dad said nothing. I was not even sure he was still with me, but the tunnel was too narrow to look back.

The light was from the end of the tunnel, and I emerged into the forest, although I knew instantly that this was not the same woodland.

The air was cool, the sky deep blue, and the first tree that I saw was a huge elm tree, but about it were fir trees. There was an old woman sat on a rocking chair before a thatched timber framed and roses surrounded the low doorway. She looked up as I emerged from the hole and put aside her knitting.

“I have waited many years for you,” she said, unsurprised at my appearance from the hole. I looked about and saw dad was beside me, smiling broadly and I thought I saw a tear in his eye. The woman seemed familiar, although I was not sure where from. “And you,” she continued, pointing at me, “you have become a handsome young man, like your dad was at your age. How old are you?”

“Fourteen,” I said. She nodded, and looked at dad.

“Over there is Paul, he will show you the way to the castle.”

I saw now a man holding a staff and was dressed in purple and blue. He was short, with a long hooked nose, a bald head and eyes brows that met. He smiled on hearing his name, and I saw that his eyes, although red rimmed, were gentle and kind. The sun was behind him, shining about his head.

“Come, follow me,” he said with a heavy accent. As we followed, the trees dropped back, and I saw a wide range of mountains.

There were beautiful snow capped mountains stretching into the distance, and birds soared high above. A castle was in the distance, tall turrets thrust skyward and pennants fluttering in a gentle cool wind.

Shortly along the path we passed a house that was a simple wooden home, low fronted with large doors on an annex which were thrown open to reveal a workshop.

“Dad, that’s like your ideal house there. You always tell mum you would love a simple life with a workshop so you can make things.”

“Yes, it’s a wonderful home there,” he said. Paul paused and turned to us, a gentle smile on his lips. We said no more, but continued our way. Paul walked quickly, despite having crooked legs and in time we reached the gates of the castle.

There were two large doors, but they were open. The walls of the castle were white; a christogram of IHS was carved into the stone above the gateway.

Inside, the entrance hall was large with golden stairs rising up either side. There was a table, covered in delicious food. I could hear constant singing, and it was so beautiful. The song went deep into my heart, making me smile as I heard it, warming me to the core. Dad was smiling too.

“It is fantastic here,” he said.

“Yes,” I replied, “there is nothing wrong at all.”

“Please,” said Paul, “eat your fill. Even you, Jack, can have the wine.” It never occurred to me that Paul knew my name, for I was too interested getting a glass of wine. At home, I had only been allowed wine at Christmas.

I took a plate of food and a glass of wine, and sat to eat with Paul and dad. Then some other men came in, and there were ten others. They all looked wise but friendly and normally I was shy, but they quickly set me at ease.

As I spoke to Paul on my right and dad on my left, I overheard some snippets of conversations;

“He will arrive soon. The king is coming.” I was about to meet a king. I thought I must be dreaming, for the place was surreal, but if it was a dream I did not mind, for the place was too wondrous.

After a feast like none other that I have had, I stepped outside with Paul and dad. I looked out across the endless mountains, where forests nestled around the foothills and snow capped their peaks. In the far distance I could see the tops of a city and it seemed to glow as if made of gold. There was no sun, but it was warm and light. I glanced at my watch and saw that it had stopped.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Soon it will be time to meet the king,” Paul replied. I frowned at his answer, but he continued. “We should go back to the house.”

I was a little disappointed, but I knew we had to get back to mum. We took the short journey back along the path, but stopped at the wooden shack. The old woman was there now, waiting.

“You go in, son, get the kettle on,” dad said. I went to the front door, it was open slightly but there was no handle. Dad would be able to fix that easily. Inside, it was surprisingly comfortable.

There was a stove in the corner, although it was not lit, with a pile of wood in a basket alongside. A table in the middle had six chairs, and the wall had a hanging. There was clutter all about, and I passed from here into a kitchen. It was neat, and I saw an Aga cooker. Taking the kettle, I looked for a tap, but there was none. Instead I looked out of the window and saw that there was pump.

“Dad should buy this place, it’s so rustic,” I said to myself. I was about to leave to get the water when I heard a knock at the door.

“Come in!” I called, but the reply was another knock at the door. Placing the kettle on the table I saw a figure at the door.

I opened the door and saw a tall man with long dark brown hair, a full beard and piercing kind brown eyes. He wore all white and the light behind him illuminated his head as it had Paul’s.

“Hello Jack,” he said. “You know who I am.” His voice was gentle and although he spoke, the words seemed to be in my mind and heart as well.

“Yes,” I replied, although I had never met him before, “you are the Lord Jesus.” Stunned I stepped back, “come in.” And as he stepped into the room, so it was that light followed him, I looked about the room again.

I noticed that there was a shelf with a picture of me, dad and mum. There was a pair of boots in the corner that were dads, and on the table, his cup that I bought him at father’s day. In front of the now lit stove was a black dog, and I knew it was Kruger, our Great Dane, who had died two years ago. He and dad had been inseparable.

“What…?”

“You have let me in, and now you see the Truth,” Jesus said. “Come.” He took me outside, and dad and the woman were waiting, Paul had left. I looked to the sky and saw that they were not eagles soaring high, but angels in many colours, although with human faces they were beautiful beyond words.

“Dad, what is going on?” I asked, tears in my eyes.

“You know where we are,” he said.

“Heaven? That means I am dead.”

“No, Jack, not you. Sorry, but I never walked away from that crash.”

I had tears in my eyes, and was sad, but also I was not sad. There can be no sadness in Heaven.

“I wanted to show you that I will be fine. One day we’ll be together again.”

“The tunnel, we came through that together.”

“I was not with you. My tunnel was filled with light until I got here. Now you must go, mum needs you.” I threw my arms around him, a great tight hug, tears spilling down, but with a warmth knowing he would be happy.

“Let me lead you back to the tunnel,” Jesus spoke. So it was he led me, along the path, past the thatched cottage, to the tunnel.

“So it is,” Jesus spoke. I entered the tunnel, and moved quickly along it. When I emerged, mum was still sat on the bench. I could see through the trees, the flashing of ambulance lights. Mum rose from the bench and took my hand.

“Come on, let’s go home,” was all she said. It was all she needed to say.

©Copyright Alan Grace 2014

How I came to writing…

How I came to writing…

 

This is a muse on how I came to be a writer, where it all started and what influences I have.

It all began long ago on a stormy night… ok not quite, but it was a long time ago for me. When I was only four years old, my mum took me and my brother, three years me senior, into the newsagent, (we called ‘sweetshop’) to choose a comic. I chose the ‘Dandy’ while my brother chose the ‘Buster’ (both, sadly, now defunct).

Only four years old, I was not able to read well, but the fantastic pictures made me want to read, and so, with school, badgering my mum, and my own pig headedness, I learned to read. I grew up without a television, so the ‘Dandy’ and ‘Buster’ were a constant companion for cartoons. In time, my brother decided that the quality of ‘Buster’ was declining and he swapped to ‘Dandy’s sister comic, the ‘Beano.’

For many years, ‘Dandy’ and ‘Beano’ were an obsession, with competing arguments over which was better, but also sharing the two between us brothers. After we read our own, we would swap and read each others. A box at the end of my bed was filled with ‘Dandy’ comics, and the bookshelf filled with annuals that aunties would buy every Christmas, along with other annuals of ‘Beezer’ and ‘Topper’ (also defunct ). While my friends were mad on ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles’ I was more interested in the weekly exploits of Korky the Cat or Desperate Dan.

In primary school, I was assessed at my reading level and was judged to be level G. The levels went from A through to O, and G for a starting level was quite good. It was here that I was introduced to Sheila K. McKullagh’s books of ‘Tim and the Hidden People.’ These were about Tim, who finds a key and while he has it, can see a whole collection of people, such as Wind Witches, a cat, called Tobias, Melinda the White Witch and many others. Later, Tim was replaced with Jessica and Arun. The authoress also wrote books about a boy called Nicholas who went into a picture to join some Buccaneers. All of these books I lapped up, reading the entire range. I loved cats at the time (strange, I know, but hey, I had no telly!) and read ‘Pyewacket’ by Rosemary Weir.

During the first year of primary school at aged seven, having been to an infant school, the teacher had us write a story every Monday. I enjoyed this greatly. Sometimes he would bring in an object for us and we would write about it. I remember him bringing in an unusual bottle, but he dropped it, so told us to write a story while he cleaned the broken glass up. Another time, he had a note, deliberately obscure, so we would write a story as if we had received that note and what it meant. The note read; “Bill of Portland Echo Cave Bring gem 1.30 Thursday” Now my taste for writing was beginning, but something magical was about to happen.

I was nine years old, third year Junior School (year five now) and the teacher told us to write a character. Her original idea was to be a little devil, but she then allowed many children, including myself to write other characters. I chose a Gnome. We wrote a profile, such as age, height, weight, eyes, etc – a process I still use when I have new characters to this day. It was from this exercise that Cedric the Gnome was born, He was forty years old and seven centimetres tall, with a green jacket, red hat (with bobble on) and white chinos (yay 80’s fashion!)

Every week we would write a new adventure with our little creature. I loved it so much, I would write more at home, even miss playtimes to write more. While other children wrote stories a few pages long, I would write and write. To this day, I have the stories with fantastic 9 year olds artwork within. Maybe I should scan them into here.

I knew then that I wanted to write books. But things were changing. My main toy had been the castle range of Lego, but then I began to play ‘Hero Quest.’ I had begun to get involved in fantasy. ‘Hero Quest’ led to ‘Advanced Hero Quest,’ to Games Workshop’s ‘Warhammer Fantasy Battle’ and ‘Warhammer Fantasy Rôleplay.’

As my years turned to teens, I read avidly, absorbing any writing on ‘Warhammer’ like a nerdy goblin. I created my own armies and then my own races. At school, I had entered secondary school, and relished the few times we were set stories to write.

We were studying mythology in English in first year (year seven now) and had to write a story about a knight. I made a character who would become a lead character in the fantasy novel that I work on now. Later, another story saw the first appearance of my lead heroine. At home I worked passionately on early plans for my novel. The map I drew in a rough notebook is the same as I use now for the novel, although many more locations have been added and names have been changed as I disliked them.

About the same time, I was playing Bullfrog’s ‘Syndicate’ game, about four agents who carry out special missions in a dystopian future. They are enhanced by cybernetics. A new idea for a novel was forming. One surname they had, I loved, so he became my lead character for the novel.

My writing was simple, influenced by places I had seen, with rough characters and I realised too that I was taking too much influence from the ‘Warhammer’ universe. I began to work on taking my fantasy away and making it my own. Names sounded awkward or just plain rubbish. Some names even sounded like food colouring when they were meant to be names of nations. I worry about names of races and places even now.

At college, I joined a writing group and it was fantastic. I wrote so many short stories that when it came to the end of the year and they put together a collection of the group’s stories they called the book ‘Alan and Co.’ Here I made many advances in my writing, including many restarts of my novels.

The older I got the more I read wider and wider. At about eleven I read Ian Fleming’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,’ then at thirteen I read Tolkien’s ‘Hobbit,’ closely followed by ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Now I will read anything, even material I do not agree with. I like to read wide, especially if it is something that I care about. So I have read news on the ‘Daily Mail’, ‘Sun’, ‘Telegraph’, ‘Guardian’, ‘Mirror’ and BBC. I visit political groups sites as diverse as Sinn Fein or BNP. I read any stories I get hold of, and even as a child would read the stories in ‘My Weekly’ and ‘Bella’.  I feel that to read widely is always good, and besides, you never know where the next story will come from.

So over the years, I have tried several times with my Cedric. Once loved, never forgotten. He looks the same, but has changed much. One day I will return and try again with him. My fantasy world has been expanded, more races discovered, the gods written about and I know the characters as well as many people I know in the real world. Yet the basic map and many character names remain. The sci-fi story still has the same basic storyline, although now more developed, and researched. The baddies have changed from enemy agents to Al-Queda to IRA.

I always wanted to write a swashbuckling pirate novel, and in my early twenties began one. Sadly, my computer died on my and it was all lost, along with my background for other novels, short stories and poems. How I cursed the computer. Although I put that novel on a backburner I managed to recover enough to resume my fantasy and sci-fi novels.

Once, while at work, it was late and quiet. I sat down and began a horror novel. I saved it, and e-mailed it to myself, so that when I got home, I would have it. Then the computer died on me! I had an external hard drive in case the computer went wrong, but instead the external hard drive got a virus and so I lost all my writing again. This has thrown my back, and yet again, I am trying to rebuild my novels. Next time I will back the stuff up. I wish I knew more about how computers work.

©Copyright Alan Grace 2014

Character Creation or stuck for ideas?

Character Creation or stuck for ideas?

©Alan Grace

One of the first parts of writing for me is character creation. It also helps sometimes when stuck for a new story to create several characters and see what happens to them I have included a sample character John ‘Lizard’ McGrath. I made him up as a ‘stream of conscience’ in about half an hour, so it need not take long. Obviously he can be ‘fine tuned’ at a later date.

 

Sample Character

John ‘Lizard’ McGrath

John McGrath was born to a poor family in Southampton, and has two older brothers, (Patrick and Jamie) and a younger sister Daisy. His dad left when he was two, and his mum struggled to bring them up alone. When he was twelve, his mum married Ethan Edwards. He turned out to be an abusive drunk, and when John was fifteen, he took a hit too many and fought back, breaking his step dad’s jaw before he ran away.

John spent four years on the street, getting into trouble with the police for fighting and theft. When he was nineteen he met Father Jake Thompson, a Catholic minister. He helped him though his drug and alcohol problems, although John still had a terrible anger. He joined the army, getting into the SAS, and served in the Gulf War, then in Northern Ireland and the invasion of Iraq.

It was in Iraq that he was blown up by a roadside bomb, and lost an eye. He was offered a false eye, by decided to have a patch instead. He left the army on medical grounds becoming a reporter.

He became embroiled in many stories he was covering. In 2010, he saved the life of a high ranking police officer who was the target of the RIRA. When he was covering the 2012 London Olympics, he uncovered a plot by anarchists who were planning to release a nerve agent over the Olympic Village.

He got the nickname ‘Lizard’ from his army days, when he was in the SAS, his ability to conceal himself was like a Chameleon.

Name: John McGrath

DOB: 03/07/1970

POB: Southampton

Occupation: Reporter

Height: 6ft 2”

Weight: 13stone

Eyes: Dark Brown

Hair: Brown with a few flecks of grey.

Appearance: John is quite a character; he is blind in his right eye and wears a patch with a lizard symbol on. His nose has a small scar on, and he rarely smiles. He is scruffy, often with stubble and short spiky hair.

Religion: Catholic – Quite devout.

Family: He is not close to his brothers as they turned against him when he left home and was an alcoholic. He is very close to his sister Daisy. He hardly ever talks to his mum, who he has never forgiven for marrying Ethan. He was fond of his gran, but she died when he was in Iraq – something he feels guilt for.

Friends; Closet friend is Father Jake Thompson, who has given him a reason to live and introduced him to his faith. He has many friends from his days in the army, although he is not very close to them, as he finds it hard to trust people. He does get on well with Charlie Fitzgerald who he went through army training with.

Enemies: He hated Ethan Edwards, his step dad, and fell out with fellow reporter Laura Johnson. Some of his operations in the SAS and later as a reporter has made him some dangerous enemies.

Interests/like: John likes anything to do with the military, and builds military models. He also enjoys go-karting and rugby. He likes the USA and admires the Ghurkhas.

Dislikes: He dislikes gambling on religious grounds, and is tee-total and against drugs due to his past. He hates fishing, finding it boring, and hates the Welsh.

Personality: John is often withdrawn and solemn, he smiles rarely. He distrusts all but those closest to him. However, he is totally loyal to people and would do anything he can to look after them. He is quick to anger, and this has often resulted in violence.

Dreams/ambitions: John would like to settle down one day and marry, but he enjoys his job too much. He has occasionally thought about joining the clergy.

 

Character Creation or stuck for ideas?

Creation:

Character creation is simple, and almost like creating a character in Dungeons and Dragons. (Actually on some characters in the past, I have used the Warhammer character creation for this!) During the course of writing a story, I often learn more about my characters so I add details as I go. Maybe the character will mention that he likes orange juice, so will add that.

I start with the character’s Christian names from looking at baby name websites. I choose a name which has images of what he looks like. Names are related to personalities. ‘John’ is quite a tough name –such as John Wayne, John McClane (die Hard) or John-117 (Halo).  Other names in the character profile was very random but appropriate to background (nationality, ethnicity, age)

Next I move to physical details, so I know what the character looks like. From his name, I will have some ideas already. This will have hair colour, eye colour etc. If I am writing a novel and the character is important, I would probably draw a picture of him

The background was made up as I went. I only slowed to check a few details such as dates of the Gulf war; I did not want him to be three when he went to war! As this was a random character I did not need to write any pre-made story about him. I did want him to be a little different so he had no right eye. A background is important as, unless writing about a newborn, everyone has ‘done stuff’ before the story begins. It also helps mould their personality and motivations. Look at yourself – why do you like and think this and that?

All people, even evil dictators or brave soldiers have families and interests and views of the world. No one is totally evil or totally perfect. John’s likes would have to be appropriate to his job – no point being lazy and fat when he is a reporter and former SAS soldier. What he dislikes can be wide ranging. He could have been a frothing racist, or dislike baked beans. I chose him to dislike gambling which fits with his faith, and having been through the horrors of alcohol and drugs, it is very likely he would dislike that. The dislike of the Welsh was only to be a rounded character. Even people who claim not to be racist often dislike someone (Many English dislike the French.) Of course how this dislike manifests itself remains to be seen. Does he hate them to a degree he would not work with them? Does he call them nasty names or just distrust them? As a hero of a story, it cannot be too nasty. He was going to dislike the Irish, having served in Northern Ireland, but then being Catholic it may not have been appropriate.

Dreams are what drive people. Why does he not just stay in bed all day? This is important for a story as it affects how people act. Despite his tough lifestyle, he is possibly a romantic at heart and would love a wife and kids.

Stuck on a Story? – Or Where to Go now?

Ok, so if you are stuck on a story, you could create a random character like this, but where to go next? Look over the character and he will write a story for you. Here are a few ideas on John:

  • He is struggling with Post Traumatic Stress
  • He is struggling with his faith
  • An enemy comes to kill/blackmail him. Maybe from his SAS mission or reporting.
  • He uncovers a major threat while reporting – terrorism, drug trafficking, assassination attempt etc (think action films!)
  • The story of his attempt to become a member of the clergy.
  • His love life
  • He is recalled for ‘one last job’ by the SAS (as obviously there is no one else who can do it.)
  • He is decorated for his action.
  • His mum dies and there is dispute or resolution with Ethan Edwards.
  • Expand on his enemy Laura Johnson – why do they not get on?
  • Tell the story of his fight in Iraq where he lost his eye.
  • He wants to repair his relationship with family

Ok, so you get the picture. It can be almost any genre you like, a short story or a novel. To expand further, use several components; he has to go back to Iraq, but is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress, or he has to work with a Welsh man. Maybe he has to cover a story with Laura Johnson. Or maybe, he is getting an MBE from the Queen but uncovers a terrorist plot or feels guilty and wants his mum to be there. He would have to make up with her and try to have some kind of relationship with Ethan.

The likes and interests also help set scenes. It expands scope of where people can meet up and also who their friends would be. It is probable that John has friends who also enjoy rugby as well, and he could meet some at the local rugby pitch and talk to them, or meet a potential girlfriend at the Go-Karting track.

So that is just a few ideas if you want to create characters or are stuck for ideas on what to write next. Play around, and most importantly – HAVE FUN!