Tag Archives: novel

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.

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!

Excerpt from ‘The Bioborg File’ by Alan Grace

Mel was alone with Lawrence, he breathed faintly, forced a smile at her.

“I’m dying aren’t I?” He asked.

“No babes, hang in there, we’ll sort this.” Mel said, her eyes dropping to avoid the truth. She ran her fingers over the face of the phone and glanced at the door as if to see if Lockley was there, and then back at the bloodied face of Lawrence.

“The pain is going lover,” He said softly. “Feeling warm, like I’m drunk.” He paused to regain a bit of strength. “Why do they want you?”

“I don’t know. John is looking after me, he’s from the police.”

“You know,” Lawrence said. “I know you don’t feel the same, but I kinda love you.”  Mel sighed and looked away, ashamed at the truth “I just want you to know…” Lawrence continued. “…take care. I know you can get through this.”

“Lawrence, what are you talking about? You’re gonna get better and John will get the guys who did this to you, then we’re gonna go and have a blast.” Lawrence smiled, closing his eyes. Mel was beginning to get blurry on him, but that may have been the tears.

“You know that’s not true, but I’m not afraid now,” He said. He grabbed her arm in a sudden surge of energy. “Get a man who looks after you properly. And you need to fall in love.”

“I know.” Mel sobbed holding Lawrence’s hand tight. “I’m sorry,” She let out a great sob as he sighed deeply. Her head fell to Lawrence’s chest, but his hand fell limp.

Her head jerked up with a start, her eyes wide in horror.

“Law?” His chest did not move and his eyes stared vacant at the ceiling. “No, not again,” She cried out. “I’m so sorry babes.”

 

©Alan Grace

 

 

‘The Husband’ by Dean Koontz

‘The Husband’ by Dean Koontz tells the tale of a regular hard working man, Mitch Rafferty who one day receives a ‘phone call telling him he needs to pay $2million or his wife will die. He is a gardener and does not have that money, but the kidnappers insist he will be able to find the money; he just has to do what they tell him.

This is not the story of a superhero, a special agent, this is just a regular American guy and it shows. Koontz crafts the story in a a believable way. What would you do if your wife was kidnapped and they threaten to kill her? Mitch’s knowledge of guns is only what he gets from Hollywood, and often that is wrong. He realises he is no trained killer, but those he is dealing with are. As the story progresses, Mitch gets more and more desparate and take mores more and more dire action, but never does he suddenly become James Bond.

There are plot twists, and I was glued as I was reading, as often as I read, all seemed settled and would turn out fine, I was wondering why there was so much book left. Then it went wrong and the situation was more desparate. My favourite part of the book involves Mitch being in the boot of a car, which, in my opinion, is a classic episode, but I will say no more. read the book to find out what i mean.

Dean Koontz has written many fantastic books, and this book must be among my favourites.

‘Sharpe’s Triumph’ by Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Triumph is the second in the ‘Sharpe’ series but the first that I have read. It does not rely on the reader having read the previous book and is a complete book in itself. The story follows Sgt Richard Sharpe up to the Battle of Assaye in India 1803. As with many Bernard Cornwell books, it mixes real events with fiction.

The book is fantastic, creating a great atmosphere in the British army of 19th century India. The characters are all believable and there are many likable ones. I was disappointed and upset when one character died, showing how expert Cornwell is at making real characters. The ‘baddies’ are not the totally evil guys that frequent Hollywood and lesser novels. They are real people, some misguided, some nasty but all with balanced believability and with other interests. They are driven by duty, lust, money, hatred or power. Sharpe too, is not all good. He has doubts some nasty thoughts and acts in a believable Victorian way.

The historical facts bathe the book so tiny details that a reader may not notice add to the flavour – such as the blackened faces of riflemen from firing flintlocks constantly. I did find one mistake which i was disappointed at. The 74th Highland Regiment was actually called Campbell’s Highlanders until 1845. A simple fact maybe, but when he has put so much detail in the rest of thebook, a minor and easy to find detail should have been ironed out.

Do i have criticisms? Not really, but if I search for them, there is possibly too much detail in the real world. I wanted more of a fiction story rather than so much time spent decribing the battle. As much as i enjoy history, I would rather this was in historybooks and not fictional books.

‘Burning Land’ by Bernard Cornwell

‘Burning Land’, by Bernard Cornwell is the 5th book in the series about Uhtred of Babbenberg. It is a stand alone novel, referring back to the previous but not relying on them, which i believe is a strong point, especially as i have not read the other four novels. Set in 890AD, it pitches Vikings against Saxons, and instantly, Cornwell transports us back to the dark, violent and dirty times. No niceities here, this novel is hard hitting, creating a desperate struggle for survival. The names of the places are in Old English, rather than modern English, but there is a short translation at the beggining. I could not put this down, it was enthralling, and the characters believeable. Cornwell has excelled himself once more.

What I’m Reading…

I always read lots of different stuff at the same time. One book for lunch time, one for before bed etc. So here is a list of books i am reading:

‘The Dark of the Sun’  Wilbur Smith. This is going very well, although I went into it with scepticism, following the disappointment of  ‘Assegai’. Set in modern days, following a group of mercenaries in Africa, I have been impressed. A review will be up soon.

The Bible: Part way through the Old Testament, difficult going, but very interesting and helping my Christian journey.

‘Young Fur Traders’ RM Ballantyne. Tried this when i was younger. Very old book, but never completed it. Have only just started and it is great so far. Written in 1856 so the style is unlike much written today.

Warhammer and Warhammer 40K Rulebook. Not novels, but i read the rules over and over especially Warhammer as they have only recently come out and so i am not up to date with them. Great game to get into as it has been a great inspiration to me across the years.