Tag Archives: writing

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

Book Review: Robert Moffat: The Story of a Great Missionary

Robert Moffat: The Story of a Great Missionary

By Hubert Williams

Published approx 1883 by National Sunday School Union

When I picked this book up at a car boot sale, I had no idea who Robert Moffat was, and although I admire missionaries, I know very little about them. The book was old, tired around the edges, yellow edged pages and fantastic plates illustrating the inside of the book. It was an old book, smelling of age, beautiful in its simplicity and naïve look, from a time long before e-books.

It was only £1, and loving all books and interested in Victorians, having recently finished Redvers Buller biography (see other review), I had to have it.

Robert Moffat (1795-1883) was a missionary and father in law to Dr Livingstone. He spent fifty years in Kuruman, (South Aftrica), and wrote the first book in the local language of Setswana;  “Bechuana Spelling Book and A Bechuana Catechism.” He then translated the entire Bible into Setswana.

The book has no date but a copy on the internet is marked as 1883 just after his death. The inside cover has a prize label marked 1934/5.

Reading the book, published by National Sunday School Union  and of this age shows, and writes for the audience who would be mainly British and Christian. The book is for a younger audience, and details his hard life and good Christian work. It appears sanitised for the audience, and more detail of his hard life would have been better.

By the end of the book, one is fond of the old man who gave his life to spread the Good News, and shared his sadness of family deaths and sees him as a good caring man.

For me, the book is too short, I feel and could have had more detail. I wanted to learn more about him, more about the conditions he lived, and even more information about the people he lived among. It would read as too heavy for modern children but too sanitised for adults.

Verdict: Good book for those with little or no knowledge of Moffat but not for all readers.

Review: “Life of General the Right Hon. Sir Redvers Buller” By Charles Henderson Melville CMG

Life of General the Right Hon. Sir Redvers Buller

By Charles Henderson Melville CMG

 

There is a statue on the Crediton road on the edge of Exeter of a soldier mounted on his horse, an inscription on the plinth reads; “He saved Natal.” This is Redvers Buller VC, a personal hero of mine who served in the Zulu Way of 1879, one of my favourite periods in history.

‘Life of General the Right Hon. Sir Redvers Buller’ is a biography about the Crediton VC recipient. The book was available only on Print on Demand (POD) by Bibliolife who try to keep old, out of print books alive.

Redvers Buller was a son of a Devonshire squire, who made his way in the army, winning a VC in the Zulu War by saving several men while under fire, was sent to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum, led the army to victory for the Relief of Ladysmith, which subsequently allowed for the final victory in the Second Boer War. In Ireland, he reorganised the police to try to stem the rise of discontent and possibly one of his most important success, was the formation of the Army Service Corp (ASC) which allowed for better supply of weapons and food for the army. This has now become the Royal Logistics Corp and historians say, that without the ASC the Great War would not have been possible.

The book was written in 1923 and the age of the book is its advantage as well as disadvantage; the author interviewed the Buller family, including his wife and sister for information, and tries to use Buller’s letters and notes, and also those of his contemporaries. The downside is that one must remember when reading the biography that so much has not happened. The occasional comparison’s to the ‘modern army’ is in fact an army that has not experienced World War 2, and is the army of the British Empire at it’s most powerful. The events in of the book happened only twenty to seventy years previously.

The language can be difficult and to some reading today, offensive, showing just how much the English language has changed over the last ninety years. There is a use of the ‘N’ word but this is not used to be offensive but used correctly for the time. The spelling of some place names have changed too, such as ‘Kabul’ spelled as ‘Cabul’. The author of the book is an ex-soldier and the vocabulary draws much from the military area, which can be and obstacle for those less militarily minded.

The book is almost a historical source in its own, and written very personally. Originally written by a Brit for the British market, British items are often referred to as ‘ours’ (Our army, our men etc). The author does not state his opinion or judgement on the actions of the time, but does compare them on occasion to his own experience. The use of ‘I’ in many historical books is not common in modern books and in Biographies, only when the author knew the subject.

The biggest complaint of the book must be the ending. Or rather sudden stop. Reaching the end I was at first angry that the publisher had failed to print the whole book and was readying an e-mail of complaint. Searching the internet I found that they had included the book as originally written. The book ends with Buller’s successful reforms in Ireland.  However the book fails to continue. After Ireland, Buller served in the Second Boer War, having several defeats before achieving a string of major victories. After that, he had humiliating press coverage and was forced to resign his position. Why the life of Buller does not continue, I do not know. Maybe the author wanted to remove Buller’s humiliation of defeat and resignation. This fails to give a full overview of his life and excludes one of his great victories, that despite defeat he won in the end and the masses loved him, so much so that they erected the statue mentioned earlier and in Crediton church there is a large memorial to him.

For all its foibles, the book does give much detail on Buller’s life that is not available elsewhere. The picture of Buller that is so often seen is a portly gruff looking Victorian soldier. This biography tells a different story. One anecdote tells of his time at the military training school where he got up to pranks that would not look out of place with today’s young or even the ‘Inbetweeners’. His letters tell more of his heart and opinions. It is interesting to see his view of the ‘enemy’. He never hates them and there is no sign of racism. Indeed, he says of the Zulu’s as ‘fine fellows’ despite narrowly avoiding death with them, and he dislikes fighting the Boers as they had served alongside him in the Zulu wars. These views were never made for public consumption as a soldier is expected to do his duty, regardless of personal opinion. Havnig read quite widly on Buller, this level of detail is absent, and other writers only concentrate on his military successes and failures, and there are also very few biographies on Buller alone at all, even in his home town of Crediton.

The other important note that can be drawn from this book is that there are many parallels that can be drawn with modern life. The army held up by dithering politicians, and Egypt, was taken into British ‘protective custody’ but then the British cannot withdraw as Egypt has to have a serviceable army to stop Islamist extremists invading from the south (Afghanistan anybody?). Buller complains about the press coverage and liberal armchair generals who do no know what it is like to be a real soldier. It seems some lessons are never learnt.

So is this book a good read? It is not an easy, casual read, only for a committed reader with an interest in Redvers Buller or Victorian generals. The biography is good, but is let down by the lack of coverage of the last few (but important) years of his life.

 

Verdict: A hard read, informative but somewhat incomplete.

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

 

 

How i got here. Musings on ‘The Bioborg File’

Ever wondered how a writer reaches his novel? Yes, me too. I am not sure how others get to where they are, but the following is how I came to have the story which is ‘The Bioborg File,’ a sci-fi novel set in south England with man/machines for heroes.

Sometime in the distant 1990’s there was a fantastic computer game, ‘Synndicate’ by Bullfrog, which involved a ‘god-mode’ view of four cyborgs. Set in a dystopian future ruled by companies (Syndicates). As the cyborgs, your jobs is to do various missions and take over the world. In a word, this was the beginning, the inspiration, the reason for the ‘Bioborg File’. I loved the idea of people having robotics added to them. Thus were born the Bioborgs.

I equipped them in trenchcoats because they could hide weapons easier. (Also in the ‘Untouchables’ it looked cool!) Terminator, the Untouchables and many other films have shotguns, so this became the weapon of choice for Lockley, my hero. With research into cybernetics, both real and sci-fi, so the background was building up.Inspiration came from films such as ‘Terminator’ ‘Universal Soldier’ ‘ Alien’ and RPG’s of Shadowrun, and also Warhammer 40.000 wargaming.I did not was a parody or rip-off of the films and books and games, and with a mixture and immagaination, my baby was being it’s own world.

Lockley is not a robot but a man with robotics, but his commitment meant he could have little emotion. He is good looking, brave and hard as steel.He is not based on anyone person. He has his own weaknesses and interests, and has friends. He grumbles at roadworks like the rest of us, and prefers the weather to be sunny.

Mel is the other main character. An unwilling heroine. She smokes too much, screams too much and is not brave. She hates Lockley, and would rather be clubbing. She is based on several people, but mainly loosely based on someone I once knew. She has had several names over the years, but I settled with ‘Mel’ after Melissa Joan Hart, who is a real hottie in Sabrina the Teenage witch.

The bad guys are not all bad. To Hitler he was a good guy, to Al Queada they are right and we are the bad guys. These ‘bad guys’ have families and friends, sometimes they are gentle. I hate Holloywood portrayal of bad guys who only hate. Seriously, would a bad guy shoot a henchmen in cold blood becuase he failed to kill the good guys? When people failed Hitler he replaced them, maybe sent them for trial, but did not shoot them in the chancellory. The same applies for the way that i make bad guys. They are bad because they are on the ‘other side’. They still love people, they are not stupid and at one point in the novel, Lockley is in the office of the enemy leader. On his desk is a photograph of his daughters. And why not? He loves them, and they will cry when/if he dies. I try to make the baddies like real, rounded characters so they are believable, and possibly even some sympathy with them.

Why set a novel in south England. Simply because I know it. I cannot set a novel in New York as I have never been there. Almost all locations are real or based on those that i have been too. A committed fan could trace the routes that the characters take. I also wanted a book set in England as most Hollywood films are set in America, which is boring and repetive and also harder to associate with being English. I want the book to be recognisable.

As i write, i try to think what is similar in real life? The head quarters of the Bioborgs is a business. There will be posti-its about, and coffee machines. They call each other by their Christian names. Biobrogs are armed but they are not soldiers. The MD is in charge, not a general. Staff will complain about the state of the toilets and the cost of the canteen. In a word, it is fiction in a real England.

‘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.

Websites I like

Here is a list of some websites i like. Some are personal and some i like as they are useful for writing, research or inspiration.

 

  •  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page      Wikipedia, always useful point to start any research.

‘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.