Bitter Armand

The port city of Le Havre is a masterpiece of vague navigation aids. Roundabouts point to places that people really don’t want to go to, especially the British tourists who drive tiredly off the ferry, yawning after a rolling night on the English Channel. Long stretches of road also exist without a roundabout, so if you take the wrong turn you’ll have to drive for kilometres (and get even more lost) before you find your way out again. For those without a satnav in their car, or those unwilling to use their smartphone data to navigate, it’s a rude introduction to la belle France.

One of the architects of this bewildering and frustrating road system was a man we shall call Armand. Armand was a misanthrope. In fact, he was the misanthrope’s misanthrope, an utter bastard who made it his life’s work to create misery for others. He fitted perfectly into the French public service.

There was nothing Armand liked better than to drive around his town and the local environs, including Honfleur and the magnificent Pont de Normandie. He knew his way around every street without even having to glance at the masterpieces of misdirection he’d created, and he’d drive with the window down, Gauloise in his mouth, smiling at each sign of frustration from motorists. Each wail of horror from a car with GB plates which was going around a roundabout for the third time. Each angry scream of air brakes from articulated lorry drivers who suddenly realised that the port sign they thought was the one they wanted, wasn’t. It was all music to Armand’s ears. Continue reading

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Taking it to the streets in Paris

A diversion from writing fiction or reviews for me, this time. I thought I’d share some photos with you as part of a project I am doing as a guest blogger on another site.

Paris in the springtime … it’s the stuff of lovers, of movies, of songs, of writers. Of photographers.

If Paris doesn’t lift your creative heart, you’re a lost cause. Sorry.

I was lucky enough to visit Paris in June 2016, in late spring. The chestnut trees had finished flowering, but the summer heat hadn’t started. Window boxes across the city had been newly planted with pelargoniums in a riot of colour, or hydrangeas with nodding heads of every colour of the rainbow. Women had started exchanging their heavy winter scarves for lighter summerweight versions – heaven forbid that any true Parisienne would be seen without a scarf! Continue reading

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Foxed pages? Don’t you dare leave that thing here!

Every so often I go through ‘stuff’ and put together bags for charity of things I can’t sell or which will take too long to sell. I did a book purge recently and rocked up to my local Salvation Army shop with a car boot full and happily unloaded the boxes for inspection.

“We don’t take books,” the woman said sniffily.

“Eh? But you sell them!”

“Not books with brown spots on the paper. It could be mites or anything nasty. We only take books that look new. No charity shops take old books any more.”

Well bugger me. One of the delights of charity shops was finding that one book in the series you were missing, or spending 50c getting something from an author, perhaps a bit obscure, you hadn’t tried before, or finding something out of print you’d been wondering about. Continue reading

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Beware of the badly-written self-published novel

Have you ever started reading a book which was so appallingly edited and proofed, and had such an improbable plot line and flat character voices that you simply couldn’t put it down? You might be wasting several hours of your life you’ll never get back, but you’re not going to give up. Surely, surely, the book will get better as you read on?

On a whim I purchased two e-books last week as a result of the author posting on a Facebook group to which I belong. The novels – part 1 and part 2 of the same story – are set in the USA in the 1920s and feature silver screen siren Louise Brooks as one of the characters. I am a big Louise Brooks fan and the author’s blurb made the books sound rather fun.

I won’t name and shame the author or his books, but oh dear, the novels are awful!

Book 1 started well enough but it seemed the author couldn’t be bothered proofreading after a bit or is genuinely unaware of using punctuation when closing a quote mark. I gritted my teeth as all the characters spoke their rather stilted dialogue in this manner: “…I do not know about that” said Character 1. Where’s the comma? Missing in action! If I’d been reading the paperback versions (and oh yes, they are available as paperbacks, scarily enough) I’d have red-penned my way through the entire book, but that’s impossible on an i-Pad.

If the poor punctuation and lacklustre dialogue didn’t test my patience enough, the plots got sillier and sillier as our hero and his heroine battled mafia bosses and kidnappers (several times) in between more sex scenes than a Shades of Gray novel. And let’s not talk about the masses of gratuitous violence. Plot improbabilities include our hero falling for the daughter of his father’s employee, having never met her before despite their fathers working together for years, and her father being perfectly fine with the notion that the hero is shagging his daughter senseless without putting a ring on her finger. This is the rural USA in the 1920s. Dad would have been after them with a shotgun – but wait, our heroine is no slouch with a gun herself as she goes into action in yet another shootout. Our hero, while fearing for his life with bullets whizzing everywhere, spends a few seconds admiring her tight, sassy butt as she runs wearing jeans and pulling the trigger. Sigh. (Jeans? Unlikely. She would have probably worn women’s trousers in the 1920s.)

On the plus side the attention to detail in the novels when it comes to 1920s automobiles, aircraft, railway rolling stock, and 1920s Hollywood is superb. That’s the one plus. There are no others.

These two books represent the real danger of self-publishing, especially if the book doesn’t have an editor aside from the author himself. I suspect that’s the case here. An editor would have told the author the novels are simply a poorly-written sex fantasy with unbelievable and improbable plots and characters. Without a LOT of work these books shouldn’t see the light of day, at least as a paid product on Amazon. Given they feature real life characters such as Louise Brooks and Billie Dove they could be submitted to a fanfic site and hopefully pounced on by beta editors for the author to rework before they go live.

If you are considering self-publishing a novel, please find an editor and a proof reader. Your local Writers’ Society should be able to point you in the direction of a reputable editor. Editors aren’t cheap, but they are the difference between sales and good reviews, and no sales and bad reviews.

As for my review of this book? I didn’t leave one on Amazon. It would have been too scathing. The next e-book I buy will be from a respected and well-known novelist.

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Book Review: Odds on Death by Graeme Roe

Odds on DeathWhen I saw this in the specials bin it ticked the boxes: murder and horse racing in a UK National Hunt setting. Thrillers, however, are not renowned for character development – not that that impacted on the sales of The Da Vinci Code, however I found because of it I enjoyed this book as little as I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code.

By the end of the book I knew as little of the character and thoughts of protagonist Jay Jessop as I did at the beginning. Nor did I know what he and his wife looked like – I guess that is a nice challenge for my imagination.  In fact the only person in the book who seemed less one-dimensional than the others was jockey Amanda who rates a physical description in the novel. I suspect that because I’m female I’m more interested in learning more about the characters than male readers. I’m guessing guys will think this novel is great just the way it is.

The story starts off fast with two murders, includes a kidnapping, and a threat to Jay’s amazingly rapid rise up the horse training ladder. It stays fast. Like the Cheltenham Gold Cup it goes at a cracking pace. In parts that pace is too fast. Within paragraphs the action jumps from one location to another, which isn’t ideal. I’d prefer such a break in location to be marked with a new paragraph.

This book is the second in a series of four (to date) Jay Jessop Racing Mysteries by Graeme Roe. I do hope the first one, A Touch of Vengeance, gave more of a back story to the main characters than this one did; there’s a sentence here and there about their pasts, but Dick Francis gave his characters a lot more depth and creditable back stories. I suspect Roe is far more interested in the plot than the people in it.

So I’ve been rather damning about this book, but, you know what? I’m going to hunt out the first in the series. Not just to satisfy my mind about any character development and back story, but there is one standout about Odds On Death which gives it a real authenticity: horse racing. Graeme Roe is a former National Hunt jockey and horse trainer and it shows in the way he writes about life in a National Hunt yard and on the racecourse. He knows horses, he knows the industry, he’s ridden the courses his fictional jockeys and horses race on.

These days he runs a corporate communications company, and I suspect that has an impact on the way he writes. There’s the ‘Who, What, When, Where, How’ those of us in the industry learned was the basis of every media release, and that’s been used to good effect in this book. Plenty of information clearly and cleanly provided. The lack of character development and description lets this book down though; I read 371 pages about men and women who could, often, have been interchangeable and were, finally, just words on a page.

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Book Review: The Folly of French Kissing by Carla McKay

The folly of french kissingI was intrigued to find this book in the crime section of a bookshop last week; the cover looked anything but crime-like and hinted of 18-30s chick lit. The blurb on the back was promising, however. Judith Hay, the innocent victim of a scandal at the school at which she teaches, leaves her job and decides to try her luck living in the Languedoc. The village she settles in has quite a large British expat population, which causes friction with the locals, but it’s cheap and the weather is sunny and hot. Judith settles in and learns more about her fellow Britons – in fact, more than she’d like to know.

There’s no murder (quel dommage!) but you do hope that someone will clock the brutish and abusive Lance Campion or the bullish Bill Bailey on the head. That person could be the mild-manned bookseller Gerard, who has an alter ego in his head called Ged who metes out punishment to people to mistreat books (the paragraph in the novel describing Ged is one of life’s joys). But no, this is not about murder. It’s about secrets, nasty secrets, and Judith finds herself unwittingly in the middle of them. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…

This book has an engaging and well-drawn cast of characters. It has intertwining plot lines, some of them touching very serious topics, and a true sense of place. Carla McKay writes authentically about the region as she has lived there herself. You can feel the summer heat, see the buildings in the village clearly through her eyes. There is a tendency to cliche with regard to the French, however. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed it except for a couple of things.

The time warp. One character, Jean, is trying to find her daughter who is in her mid-twenties. However, the daughter left school in 1984 apparently. As the book was published in, and apparently set in, 2012, this would make the daughter pushing 40 rather than 25. Her mother searches for her on Friends Revisited and Facebook, so we know that this is a 21st century book.

This editing anomaly leads me to the second, and more irritating, problem: Bad proofing. Honestly, there is no reason why a book should be published with so many errors. Commas placed where they ought not to be and missing where they should be. Quotation marks left out. The odd grammatical and spelling error.

Carla McKay is a journalist and as a professional writer should have ensured that proofing was carried out properly. I’m very tempted to read it again this time with a pen and a bottle of tipp-ex so it’s the pleasure to read it deserves to be.

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Hellooooo, muse!

A few days ago I heard of an equestrian short story competition which closes in a couple of months’ time. Regular readers of this blog – hah! All two of you! – will realise I haven’t written either a short story or blog post here for ages. I’ve had a painful start to the year, losing my Mum over Christmas, and my muse simply threw up her hands dramatically and flounced off. For the last five months I couldn’t so much as write ‘bum’ on a wall. 

However … the short story competition has piqued my interest. Back in the 1980s I used to write horsy stories and had them regularly published in The Horse Magazine under various noms de plume (I didn’t want to seem too greedy, having half a dozen stories published per year under my own name). It’s been a while since I’ve been in the saddle, holding the reins and riding a horsy plot. So I got thinking. And plotting.

I’ve had for a while ideas for a story – or novel – set in a fictional town in NSW in the 1950s. I have misplaced the notebook I wrote them in, so I can truthfully say I’ve lost the plot! The competition meant a bit of a rethink around some of the elements I’d scribbled down for my novel. And oh bliss, the muse came back (a little frustrated with me, and nagging me to pull my finger out and keep it out), and I had a plot. I also had 6,000 words to play with, which gave me plenty of scope for character development and action. So I wrote. And wrote. I have a first draft for the competition. It’s 5,997 words. I had to edit it down to get under 6,000 as the muse was shouting loudly at me and distracting me.

Obviously I can’t publish it here as it may (oh, I hope!) get selected on a shortlist for the competition. If it doesn’t, you’ll see it here. If it wins, you can buy it on Amazon, with proceeds going to charity.

Back to editing now…

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