Monthly Archives: May 2015

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Dreamsnatcher’

Abi Elphinstone’s debut novel The Dreamsnatcher, published earlier this year by Simon and Schuster, moves at a breakneck pace. You’ve got to have your Weetabix to keep up with the adventures of Moll and Gryff, and no mistake.



It begins with a spooky prologue, where we’re introduced to a shady circle of characters engaged in something altogether nefarious, and the dreadful punishment meted out on one of their number who refuses to ‘play ball.’ The spooky, almost slow-moving feel is ripped away in chapter one, however, as the story plunges us straight into the mind and life of Moll Pecksniff, the book’s dauntless heroine, as she struggles to fight her way out of a terrible nightmare. Every night, Moll is visited by a dream in which she hears drums and snares, and she feels a pull towards a nameless terror – and the dreams have been getting worse. When she wakes, far from home, and realises that the lure of the snare and the drum has made her sleepwalk straight into danger, she is afraid of the growing power of the dream.

But she’s also brave and resourceful and pig-headed, in the best possible sense. Her beloved cob, Jinx, has been stolen, and she unhesitatingly ventures into certain danger in order to rescue him, leaving herself open to huge risk. Moll and her gypsy family live in Tanglefern Forest, in the part known as the Ancientwood. Another camp, headed by the witch-doctor Skull, lives in the Deepwood, across the river. It is to this camp that Jinx has been brought, and this is where Moll must go to get him back. But there’s more to Skull than mere horse-thievery; he is also a powerful witch-doctor, and it is he who has been calling to Moll through her dreams all her life. The closer she gets to his camp, the nearer she comes to his dangerous magic and the more thoroughly she gets wrapped up in his spell. But what is Skull’s link to Moll’s painful past, and why has he been trying, all her life, to entice her to come to him?

There is a huge amount to admire in this punchy little story. Moll, whose green eyes set her apart from the rest of her gypsy camp, has lived with Oak and his wonderful (tea-towel wielding) wife Mooshie all her life, and has been raised with as much love as any of their natural children. However, she knows that her parents died when she was tiny, but has never known the true details behind their deaths until mid-way through this story, when their sad history is explained to her. Her sense of betrayal, and being lied to, is painful and palpable at first, but she soon recovers her sense of herself, knowing that her parents were true gypsies and people with great power, who loved her dearly. As she uncovers who she is, and who her parents were, the horrible reality of Skull’s desire to destroy her grows stronger and stronger and she must fight back with everything she has, including the newfound friendship of Alfie, a boy from Skull’s camp whom she isn’t sure she can trust – but who works hard to prove his loyalty and courage. I loved the relationships between the characters, the symbiosis with which they all live in the woods, the details of their gypsy lifestyle, their love for nature and their animals, and the unbreakable bond of family and loyalty and clan which tie them all together. It’s a true ‘all for one, one for all’ scenario. When Moll is threatened, the whole camp closes protectively around her, and that was beautiful. Sometimes it threatens to take the narrative focus off Moll herself, and I did feel at times that she was being kept out of the heart of the action as others fought for her, but she’s a fearless, generous and loving character nonetheless.

The real strength in the book is in its characters, who are fabulously well imagined – at least, the members of Moll’s camp. Skull’s henchmen tend to blend a little, but that is the nature of henchmen the world over! Oak and Mooshie are wonderful, as is Alfie and Cinderella Bull and Siddy, Moll’s best friend (though it was his pet earthworm, Porridge the Second, who really stole my heart), and Moll’s relationship with her beloved wildcat Gryff, who – though he’s shown at all times as a wild animal, one who does his own thing and comes and goes of his own free will – is always a steadfast companion to Moll and his connection to her is deep, mysterious and moving. Near the book’s end he’s involved in a dangerous scene which had me crossing my fingers as I read, which really showed me how much emotion was invested in this quietly powerful animal character. There are puzzles strewn throughout the book, and rhymes which are packed with clues, which should entice and intrigue any 9-12 reader, and the tinges of supernatural goings-on intermingled with the very real life of the camp are fascinating, too. For me, as an adult reader, there were some plot points which seemed ‘smoothed-over’ and explained away, particularly towards the novel’s end, but these aren’t things a child reader would be concerned by. I also loved the details here which hint at other books – the child/daemon connection from His Dark Materials which is echoed in Moll and Gryff’s relationship, and the touches of Aslan in Gryff’s portrayal, at times – and so the book has something to offer to its target audience and to the older reader, too.

A fresh and engaging story, this book is set to become a firm favourite, and deserves its place on the shelf beside the works of Michelle Paver, Philip Pullman and C.S. Lewis. Recommended.

(A sequel to this book is set for publication next year, and it seems as though the story will be told in a trilogy – so, good news for MG readers!)


I woke last night at about three thirty a.m. straight out of a terrifying dream. For long minutes afterwards I was convinced that noises I was hearing in my room, and from the road outside, were part of the dream-vision I’d just been wrapped up in, and it took me a long time to separate them out into their constituent parts. My own breathing. The thud of my heartbeat. A single, trilling song from a solitary (and early rising!) bird somewhere outside. A distant motorbike engine.

Not voices screaming for help. Not the boom of an explosion. Not the cracking of bones.

I’d dreamed I was in the middle of a warzone, and I was being followed. There were guns. There were rocket launchers. There were bodies, and downed planes, and a man with a wide-brimmed hat, his face in shadow, who was everywhere. He had a low-pitched voice and a sardonic tone, and he knew I could never outrun him. There were razor-topped fences too tall to climb, dotted with gates too far apart (and which were locked, in any case), which led me, funnelled like an animal to slaughter, down to the killing fields along with hundreds of other people. Our fate was sealed.

Photo Credit: Takeshi Kawai via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Takeshi Kawai via Compfight cc

This dream was too easy to picture. I see images like this every single day. The news headlines, the papers, the internet, even movies; all of them fed into it. I know having a dream about a situation like this pales in comparison with actually living through it, and I’m not trying for a second to suggest they’re the same thing, but I wonder in some ways whether we’re not all under siege, no matter where we live. If we’re not experiencing these terrors first-hand, we’re experiencing them through our media, 24/7, burning out our minds as we attempt to come to terms with what’s happening in other parts of the world, wearing ourselves thin as we realise that there’s nothing we can do. People are dying, every single day, in abject horror, and there’s nothing we can do.

And I wouldn’t want to swap with them. Not for anything. And that makes me feel like the worst sort of human being.

It took me a long time to fall back to sleep. I was afraid of re-entering that same dream; this happens to me, sometimes. I preferred to lie awake, listening to the night, than to slide back into that dark world. As a result, I’m a bit less than my best today, but at least the dreadful terror passed with the rising sun. The world is back to normal, now. I am lucky, and I know it. For many hundreds of thousands of people the nightmare never ends. I wish, with everything I have, that it wasn’t so.

I’m not the kind of person who thinks dreams ‘mean’ something (as in, they’re not prophetic, or in any way significant, of course – they’re just a by-product of the processes of your mind), but I do think they can reveal a lot about how you’re thinking and feeling. In my case, then, I shudder to think what my dream reveals. It’s strange how you can be living your life, feeling reasonably okay (and having had a great weekend, during which your country felt like Carnival, with the beautiful weather to match!), and yet your mind finds a way to tell you that there’s fear, and doubt, and anxiety, deep inside you which needs to be expressed. I feel rather like a fraud these days: I’m not particularly happy with most of what I’m writing, and the bits I am happy with are going so slowly that they’re practically glacial. My other work is better left unmentioned. I’m worrying about my future, again, and where I’m going – not to mention where the world is going.

Perhaps this dream was a useful wake-up call, in more ways than one. It’s not good to keep trundling on regardless; it’s not good to squash away your fears and stresses, expecting them to just go away. I’ve seen before that this doesn’t work, and I have no idea why I keep doing it.

So, here’s what I’ve learned: I don’t have to write at the speed of the wind just because other writers do. I don’t have to compare myself with anyone else. I don’t have to work in a particular way. I don’t owe anyone anything.

Well, that’s not quite right. I owe myself the sanctity of a peaceful mind. I owe the world my best self. I owe my work – all forms of it – my utmost effort. I owe my mind its best chance at uninterrupted sleep. But I don’t have to explain myself or account for my existence, or feel like an unworthy person. I am not being hunted.

And now. I all calmness and control, it’s time to get back to work.

Book Review Saturday – ‘Resonance’

I made good on my vow to devour the latest Celine Kiernan novel, dear readers. It is entitled Resonance. It is… well. It’s fair to say that it’s somewhat beyond description. It’s like all the best bits from a variety of genres, mashed up together into a seamless whole, which has left me utterly bereft at its passing.

Oh, and also, it has left me in search of a new career, for I will never write anything half as good as this book. I have, officially, given up the mantle of ‘writer’. I am not fit to blot Celine Kiernan’s ink nor sharpen her quills, and all that. I’m thinking of retraining as an organ-grinder.



But now for the review.

I’m in a muddle as to how to even begin to describe this book. It has a bit of everything – mystery, suspense, Gothic horror, the supernatural, science fiction, historical fiction, romance – and yet it’s more than any of this. It is, very resolutely, itself, and it sits just outside of definition. If this makes it sound like a mess, then forgive my muddled prose, because it most assuredly isn’t. It’s a complex story in the hands of a master craftswoman, and it’s utterly absorbing.

It’s the late nineteenth century in Dublin. Two young people, Tina and Joe, who have been friends since their earliest days, are hard-scrabbling their way through life using whatever talents they possess. Tina is a seamstress who makes costumes for the stage and Joe is a cab-driver with big plans for his future, and Tina’s. Into their lives stumbles a young man from New York named Harry, who is in Ireland to ply his trade as a magician, and finds himself at a loose end when the theatre he’s engaged to work at cancels his string of performances without notice. They encounter a wealthy benefactor named Lord Wolcroft and his mysterious coachman, and soon the three young people find themselves kidnapped, removed from their lives in the theatre district of a run-down, tenement-infested Dublin, and spirited away to a snow-bound mansion in the Irish countryside where an assortment of strange individuals live: Raquel, a woman who lives through, and for, her dolls; her ‘living’ children, who are a pair of characters I will never forget; Luke, the groundskeeper, and the villagers, who greet the returning Wolcroft with something akin to hunger.

Something very strange is going on in this manor house. People do not age; adults obey the cruel instructions of a pair of savage children; snow and ice keep the house locked in perpetual winter; strange lights glow far beneath the surface of the frozen lake. And beneath the house, deep in the cellars, a Bright Man lies captive.

Uncovering who (or what) this Bright Man is, what his strange power over the house and its inhabitants is and why he appears differently to different people, is one of the strands of this novel. Another is Tina and Joe’s story, which shows them willing to sacrifice anything for one another, their love – so long left unspoken – finally coming to the fore. A third is the story of Harry, itself so pleasing and with so many ties to reality (I don’t want to give away his identity here, but suffice to say that his depiction gave me great joy). A fourth is the relationships between the people who live in Fargeal Manor – Raquel, Cornelius (also known as Lord Wolcroft) and Vincent, along with the absent Matthew and the terrifying children – and how they interlock. Learning about their history with one another, the ties that bind them through the centuries of life they should never had lain claim to, the pain of Matthew’s loss (and his eventual fate), and what drives them is absolutely fascinating in its own right, and it’s a testament to this novel’s strength that, here, it’s only one immense plot thread among many. The settings are perfectly described (the theatres so real you can smell the greasepaint, and Fargeal Manor so convincing that you look up from reading and half-expect to see the grinning children standing in front of you), the plot is never anything less than gripping, and the characters – particularly Cornelius, for me, for reasons I can’t even describe – burrow into your mind. Even though you’re reading about fantastical events and set-pieces which are beyond the realms of reality, every word rings true and believable. Every page saw me hungry for the next. The ending is perfect.

There are shades of (good) Anne Rice here, and also hints of classic (by which I mean nineteenth-century) science fiction. The book is dark, at times terrifying, and even though it’s a story about three teenagers (Joe, Tina and Harry are all in their late teens), it’s really not a YA book, which is what I was expecting. In fact, this book confounded all my expectations. I thought I was getting a supernatural romance (and I did, in some respects) but in so many ways, the book isn’t even about its teen protagonists. The book is about life, and what you’ll do to preserve yours just as it is, and it’s about greed, and hunger, and the terror of change. It’s about sacrifice and self-loathing. It’s about love, but not just in the sense of romantic love – love of one’s friends, family, home. Love of one’s soul. It’s about religion, metaphysics, science, the mind, and magic. It’s about cruelty. It’s about the interplay between wealth and want, the landed gentry and the starving Irish poor, the Colonies and the home countries. It’s about corruption and decay.

It’s the best book I’ve read this year. I just can’t give it any higher recommendation than that. Brava to its brilliant author.


I don’t think I’ve ever been as amazed by any social phenomenon as I’ve been by the #HomeToVote hashtag on Twitter.

Today is the day Ireland goes to the polls to vote on whether we should allow people who are twenty-one and older to run for President (currently, one has to be thirty-five or older to run for that office), and whether we should extend the rights and protections of civil marriage to same-sex couples. They are both important issues, but I think the latter is the one which has drawn so many people home, and which has seen over sixty thousand people register to vote for the first time.

Honestly, I’m flabbergasted by the whole thing. In the best possible way.

In a little over twenty years, we’ve gone from a country where homosexuality was illegal to a country where thousands of people are streaming home for a flying visit simply to vote – let’s hope! – that same-sex partners can get married, and be considered equal under the law and the Constitution to their heterosexual brothers, sisters, cousins, coworkers, and friends. I have seen arguments to suggest that holding a referendum, or a popular vote, on an issue which should be one of human rights (and therefore above a mere vote) is an inappropriate thing to do, but in Ireland, we have no other way of doing it. To amend our Constitution, we must hold a referendum. And to give same-sex couples the same rights as everyone else, their right to marry must be enshrined in the Constitution. It does make me uncomfortable that I, as part of the heterosexual ‘majority’, have the power to essentially bestow a human right upon my fellow citizens, but I hope that – should the ‘Yes’ vote carry – it will be seen as solidarity, as brother- and sisterhood, and not a patronising gesture.

In any case, whatever happens today, I have never been so emotionally moved by any electoral or referendum campaign, and I have never been more amazed at the people of my country, and overwhelmingly the young people of my country, at that. I will be so proud to take my place in line today (for queues are forming at polling stations! I’ve never seen the like!) and cast my vote, in the full and certain knowledge that I am living in a democracy, and that the people – when they truly rise up and claim it – have power beyond measure.

It almost makes up for the Eurovision. Almost.



The Deathbed Chronicles

You know, in classic novels, when people are described as ‘invalids’ – lying about on couches looking sort of wasted and pale, possibly covered in blankets, snapping at the servants and insisting on keeping the curtains closed because they can’t even be dealing with the outside world – and how you always thought it sounded a bit, well, dramatic?


Photo Credit: tpholland via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: tpholland via Compfight cc

I did, too, until I developed the Ague That Will Not Go Away (No Matter How Hard I Beg Of It), and I realised how close this depiction is to reality. All I’m short of is the laudanum drops and the strategic application of leeches to my person. I had a break from feeling ill for a few days, which lured me into thinking I was back to optimum functioning again, but over the weekend it struck once more like a hammer-blow from the heavens. No exaggeration. So, yesterday I spent most of my time in a semi-conscious fog. barely able to summon the strength to get to the corner shop for essential provisions. Today, luckily, I’m a bit better – well enough to be upright and typing, at least – and we’ll see how the rest of the day goes.

It’s no huge surprise, then, that I don’t have much to report on the writing front. I did complete a draft last week (in a strictly technical sense, as it’s one I’ve been working on for a very long time), though I don’t feel it’s really up to much. I have a reasonable beginning to another draft floating around in the ether which I need to get back to. I’m about to start edits on The Eye of the North, which should be terrifying and exhilarating and may, quite possibly, push me right over the edge into full-blown loopiness. All in all, it’s the wrong time for me to be feeling less than functional. Whatever brain cells I can muster, I need ’em now. (If you have any lying about that you’re not using, by the way, feel free to package ’em up and send ’em my way. I’ll wash ’em and return ’em as soon as ever I can, Scout’s honour).

So, I don’t have any servants to snap at (nor, in fact, very many curtains to keep firmly closed; we’re a Venetian blind-sort of household around here), but I have the long-suffering look down pat. I am, however, blessed with the robust colouring of my peasant ancestors and so the ‘pale and wasted’ thing isn’t really working for me. I am continually a fresh and healthy shade of pink, no matter what my internal reality might be, so I give the impression of being as healthy as a horse, albeit one which looks rather put out at its lot in life. This was a problem when, as a kid, I was continually suspected of pretending to be sick so that I could bunk off school.

(Fools. They should have known I was a dyed-in-the-wool nerd who actually enjoyed school. Why would I want to bunk off? Anyway).

So. Let’s hope for a return to good health for one and all, a speedy turnaround on my edits, and fresh inspiration for my new writing projects. That’s not too much to ask, right?

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

I took a notion, as we say in Ireland, to read this book again during the week. As I devoured it, I found an old tram ticket which I’d used as a bookmark the last time I’d read it, and it was dated almost exactly ten years ago – April 2005, to be exact.

A relic from times past...

A relic from times past…

Somehow, this seemed fitting. This is the sort of book which should be read over and over, because it has different meanings and resonances at different stages of your life.

I first read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in college, as part of my undergraduate English degree (on an amazing course which took in books by Jeanette Winterson and Angela Carter, as well as several from Atwood including my all-time favourite, The Robber Bride), which means I’ve read it three times in total over the past fifteen years. Ten years ago I was undertaking my PhD, and I was in my early – *cof* – mid twenties, living a dream life of independence and freedom in my capital city. This time, I find myself married, and with an entirely different (yet somehow very fulfilling) life from the one I imagined I’d have. As a woman, this means reading this book through several prisms of ‘femininity’, and it made an already fabulous book even better. It’s a landmark feminist text, but it says a huge amount that it’s also an Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel; feminism aside, it’s primarily an absorbing story about a future dystopia, a nightmare of SF, a terrible vision into a possible future.

Set, probably, sometime in the 1990s (the book was written in 1985, and the main character describes herself as having been a ‘child’ in the 1970s), The Handmaid’s Tale takes us through the life of a woman known only as ‘Offred’ – or, ‘Of Fred’, which marks her out as the property of her ‘Commander’, whose name is Fred or Frederick. She is a Handmaid, forced to wear scarlet robes and a red-and-white headdress, whose primary function in life is to act as a ‘brood-mare’ to a powerful man. This man (the Commander) is married, but his Wife – the role takes an initial capital letter at all times – is, for unknown reasons, unable to provide him with a child. Women, in this world, belong to several ‘groupings’ – Handmaids and Wives are two of these, along with Daughters (natural daughters of the Commanders) and Aunts (women whose role it is to train the Handmaids and keep them in line). There are also Marthas, who act as domestic servants, and Econowives, women who are married to lesser-ranking and poorer men and who have to fulfil multiple roles simultaneously. Men belong to equally strict segregations, including Angels (armed militia), Eyes (who patrol the morality of their fellow citizens, doling out harsh punishments as necessary), Guardians (lesser Angels) and Commanders. It is a world of no flexibility, no freedom, no comfort and no autonomy, where the threat of being deported to ‘The Colonies’, a certain death sentence, is always hanging overhead. Women have no power, not even Wives, whose influence is entirely illusory and granted to them by their husbands as a ‘sop’ – and, accordingly, their treatment of the women beneath them can be vicious. But the greatest tragedy of Offred’s life is that she wasn’t born into this world – the post-revolutionary ‘Republic of Gilead’, as it’s known. She was born and grew up in the United States, where she had a normal life including a husband and a young daughter, all of which she lost once the ultra right-wing power structures took over after a military coup. She knows what it’s like to live freely, to have her own job and her own income, and to choose whom she wishes to love. She knows how it feels to have a child and have her taken from you, a fate she’s facing again if she falls pregnant by the Commander. Her life in Gilead is a mental and physical torture.

The story seems narrated ‘after the fact’ by Offred, but even so the tension and terror of her life comes through very clearly. She is under control all the time, whether it’s an Aunt or a Wife or her Commander or an Angel keeping her down, or indeed one of her fellow Handmaids – for they must always go about in pairs, in order to keep an eye on one another. She is constantly on the lookout for her husband, Luke, of whose fate she knows nothing, and for her lost daughter, trying to tell herself they are still alive. She knows her ‘time’ is running out – if she doesn’t deliver a child soon, she will be declared an ‘Unwoman’ and killed – and she struggles with suicidal thoughts at several junctures in the story. Her status dictates that she can’t refuse her Commander anything, so when he begins to make unreasonable demands on her – demands which place her life in grave danger – she has no choice but to comply. Add to this her Commander’s Wife’s desperation for a baby, and the implication that she knows what has happened to Offred’s daughter, as well as Offred’s need to find out what happened to the other Handmaids she trained with and the complicated feelings she develops for Nick, her household’s chauffeur (which also put her life in danger), and you have a novel where the stakes couldn’t be higher. This tension is expertly maintained; the language is often soporific and beautiful, and the pace is gentle, but the terror never abates.

This book is often seen as a precursor to Louise O’Neill’s recent bestseller, Only Ever Yours, and there are several similarities – the repressed society, the ‘ranks’ of women, the bitchiness and backstabbing between the groups – but the books differ in several major respects. Most notably, The Handmaid’s Tale is far more body- and woman-positive, despite everything, than Only Ever Yours; Offred is never seen to hate her own body for how it looks, or shown as feeling inadequate or incomplete. She has a sensual side which she does her best, within the bounds of her society, to express, and she never loses touch with her own sense of herself as a woman. She is, despite everything, not ashamed of herself or her body, and even though she’s shown deliberately not looking at herself as she gets dressed and undressed, I got the feeling this was more about fear she’d lose her self-control if she did so, rather than out of any sort of inability to stomach her own nakedness. The Handmaid’s Tale is a more hopeful book, in many ways, than Only Ever Yours, which may reflect the thirty years which have passed between the publication of one and the other; reflecting on their different meanings, and what this says about the real-life world we live in, is the true terror of these stories.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a masterwork, and it’s a book I’m sure I’ll revisit again and again as I grow older. It has something to say to every stage of a woman’s life – but this isn’t to say it’s a book that only women should read. It’s a vital story for everyone, particularly those interested in ideas of liberty, autonomy and equality between races and sexes. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I’ll always be grateful to have been exposed to it first as a teenager – and that it’s still a book I find compelling as I draw close to middle age.



Is it Just Me?

Simply because of the sheer ridiculousness of this news story, and how it made me laugh (nervously, while pulling at my hair and growing increasingly wild-eyed), I’m posting this image on my blog today.




Don’t you dare cover your eyes.

Pablo Picasso, 'Women of Algiers', 1955. Image sourced:

Pablo Picasso, ‘Women of Algiers’, 1955.
Image sourced:

The most expensive painting ever sold at auction, as of this week? Amazing. I love Picasso’s work, and if I had one hundred and whatever million dollars to spend on art, I’d probably spend it on something like this too, breasts and all. The very idea that someone would blur out pieces of a masterwork because they’re deemed ‘offensive’ just… offends me. Particularly when they’re representative of parts of a woman’s body, which means they’re close to my own personal heart – in more ways than one.

Unless, of course, the whole thing has been a symphony of genius on the part of Fox News (as unlikely as that sounds), who simply wanted to stir up controversy and keep themselves relevant. Maybe. I think that’s what I’ll hope for, because it’s preferable to thinking that sixty-year-old painted breasts on a Cubist representation of a woman are too offensive to be shown on a TV screen. It’s not just me who thinks this is utterly bonkers, right? I’m not the weird one here?

Actually, you know what – I think I’ll go and set up an island Utopia somewhere. Freedom, tolerance, acceptance, peace, and free cocktails on Fridays. Who’s with me?

Ten Authors I Would Love to Meet

Yes, yes. All right. The more astute among you might have realised that today’s blog post is, basically, a Top Ten Tuesday topic, hosted as usual by The Broke and the Bookish – and, it being Wednesday, I have a cheek to even consider using it. But I’m throwing the rulebook out the window again, mainly because I can (and also because it’s fun).

So. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

I write a lot on here about authors I love, and so I’m really going to try to talk about people today who are not only new (ish), but also writery people I really want to meet. I’ve also realised that I’ve actually met (or been in rooms with, at the very least) several members of my literary firmament already – Neil Gaiman, Jeanette Winterson and John Connolly spring to mind – so they won’t feature here. This made me feel quite lucky, but also a bit peeved that I had to knock three stellar writers off my list.

In any case, here we go. In no particular order, here are ten authors I’d love to meet, and maybe – who knows? – it’ll happen one day.

Erin Morgenstern



I read (and loved) Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus the second it was published, as is evidenced by the fact that I own it in trade paperback. It’s a gorgeous, imaginative romp through a landscape full of well-drawn and beautifully described characters and settings, flavoured with plenty of magical realism and oodles of ethereal romance. It’s a wonderful book, and for months after its publication I had friends from all over the world recommending it to me in gushing, breathy tones; I was always very glad (and perhaps even a little smug) to tell them I’d read it already. So, I’d love to meet Ms Morgenstern, simply to tell her three things: I love her book, I love her surname, and I’m impatiently waiting for her to write another novel.

Jim Butcher

Mr Butcher writes (among other things) the funny Dresden Files series of novels about Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago phone book, which I’ve been following for some years now. I don’t have the complete series, but it’s something I keep meaning to rectify, as the stories are compelling, scary when they need to be and hilarious most of the time, and Harry is an excellent character (if, perhaps, a little too invested in the physical attributes of the women around him – but that’s meat for another post). I love the fact that there’s a kick-ass female cop (Karrin Murphy) as well as a scary-as-all-hell Fairy Queen (Mab) who provides more than enough in the line of ‘fierce adversary’, and together they almost make up for Dresden’s occasional lecherous thoughts about other people of the lady persuasion. Plus, I love Mouse, Harry’s otherworldly guard dog, and Bob, the wisecracking skull, and just – everything about this series. It’s fun, sure, but it’s clever fun. I think Jim Butcher would be an excellent person to hang out with for a while, so he’s on the list.

Celine Kiernan

Celine Kiernan is an Irish author of some renown (and not a little talent) who I talk to occasionally on Twitter. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that our paths will cross someday, but until they do, she’ll go on here. I adore her Moorehawke Trilogy, and her wonderful Into the Grey is one of the best children’s novels (in fact, just novel novels) I’ve ever read. So, if I do ever get to meet her, it’ll be basically me babbling about how insanely talented she is before slinking off in a cloud of embarrassment. (But not before getting her to sign all my copies of her books, of course).

Her new novel, 'Resonance', which I don't have yet. But, rest assured, I will before too long. Image:

Her new novel, ‘Resonance’, which I don’t have yet. But, rest assured, I will before too long.

O.R. Melling

O.R. (or Orla) Melling is an Irish-Canadian writer whose work, particularly The Singing Stone, a novel about Celtic mythology, the Tuatha de Danaan, and the mystical power of stone circles made a huge impression on me as a kid. I’m not sure whether Melling is still writing, but simply because her work has stayed with me for over twenty years, I’d love to meet her and thank her for all she’s done for me as a writer and a reader.

Kristin Cashore

Cashore’s Graceling series is one I love, and I follow her blog for its sheer wit, intelligence and broad scope. She seems like an interesting and clever person, as well as an extremely talented author, and I’d love to meet her simply to learn more about how to live a life of elegant simplicity. At least, this is the impression I get from her writing; perhaps the reality is somewhat different! She has created some of the best female characters I’ve ever read, and I’d love to talk to her about how she wrote them, where they came from, and where she’s going next.

Stephen King

So, yeah. A weird one, this. I have a mixed relationship with Stephen King’s work, insofar as I think he’s a genius 85% of the time, but every novel I’ve read by him (with the exception of The Stand, which is a perfect work of art) has lacked something – usually, a coherent conclusion. I’m working through his Dark Tower series at the minute (or trying to, at least), and I think there’s nobody to match him in terms of characterisation, dialogue and description – he writes so well, you live the story he’s telling. But I will never, ever forgive him for the ending to Under the Dome. Just, no. I’d love to meet him to ask him what the heck that was about.

Yes. This was my face after finishing Under the Dome, too. Image:

Yes. This was my face after finishing Under the Dome, too.

Frances Hardinge

So, I know I bang on about Frances Hardinge a lot here. But she has to be on this list. I want to know how one person can be so imaginative, and yet so cool and individual and, more than anything else, where on earth she gets her hats from. I also really want to read her newest book, The Lie Tree, and this is basically a plug for it, so yes. I’m going now.

Catherine Webb (or, whichever pen-name this author is going by at the current time)

No matter what she’s calling herself, I would love to meet a woman who was first published as a teenager, who writes books of astonishing accomplishment, and whose brain, frankly, appears to be staggeringly impressive, simply to ask ‘how is it all done? Mirrors? String? Alchemy?‘ There must be a secret, somewhere.

Philip Pullman

Just to thank him for Lyra Silvertongue, basically. Probably through veils of grateful tears. I’m sure he gets this a lot.

William Goldman

Because The Princess Bride has defined my life. No joke. For wit, wordplay, linguistic and narrative trickery and sheer storytelling brilliance alone – not to mention an awesome cast of memorable characters, some of the best dialogue ever written and an imaginative scope which has rarely been equalled. And that’s just the novel. The movie’s even better. I’d love to shake William Goldman’s hand (and then never, ever wash again).

And yes, it's a kissing book. But I don't even mind that! Image:

And yes, it’s a kissing book. But I don’t even mind that!

So, there’s my weird and eclectic list. (It’s not all that weird or eclectic, really, but humour me). Fancy giving it a go yourself? Do let me know if you do; I’d love to see how my choices stack up against yours!

Authors For Nepal (and an Influenza Update)

Time is of the essence with this one – not just, of course, in terms of the people of Nepal and their need for aid after the recent earthquake there, but also because this fantastic auction to raise money for them is coming to an end soon.



There are some brilliant things to be had – signed books, literary swag of all sorts, author appearances, and things of that ilk – but the best bits, in my opinion, are the manuscript critiques which are being offered by some of the best literary agents in the business.

Including, of course, my agent, the redoubtable (in a good way) and fabulous Polly Nolan of Greenhouse Literary Agency.

Here’s a link to the page where you can place a bid to have her critique your manuscript (should you have written one), and included in her prize is a one-hour meeting or phonecall to discuss said manuscript – and, possibly, the publishing business in general, because she’s a fount of terribly useful information, is Polly – which means that being the clever person in possession of the highest bid when the auction closes would be a Very Good Thing. Of course, it would help if you’re a children’s/YA writer-type with a completed manuscript for Polly to read, but I’m sure plenty of you gentle readers out there fall into just that category.

And, if kidlit (and, indeed, writing) is not your thing, then perhaps you’d prefer to check out the signed books and/or literary swag which is also on offer. In short, what I’m saying is, get yourself over to the Authors for Nepal auction site and have a snoop about. There’s bound to be something there to suit you, and you’ll be doing a wonderful thing for your fellow humans at the same time.

As for what I’ve been up to – well. Recuperating, is about the height of it. I’m beginning to feel like myself again, though I’m still not back to 100% functionality (and perhaps I never will be, alas. Age is beginning to take its toll, too, and decrepitude is surely just around the corner…) I made the silly mistake of trying to work on two WiPs at once last week, which wouldn’t have been a good idea even if I’d been in the full of my health (then, perhaps the idea to do it wouldn’t have occurred to me had I been in the full of my health), but – needless to say – all it meant was I didn’t make huge progress with either one. This week I hope to pick one project, focus on it, and make some headway. It would also be rather nice to be able to read something without my brain deciding to slide out of my ears and/or waking up half an hour later with my chin covered in drool.

Not that this happened at all during last week. Not at all. *ahem*

In any case, I’m (hopefully) back on the blogging horse, and with any luck I’m here to stay. Perhaps my absence gave you a chance to miss me, and perhaps you didn’t even notice I was gone. Either way, welcome to a new week and I hope it treats us all as well as can be expected, and perhaps even a little better than we’d hoped for.

And I hope it will have a lot less to do with handkerchiefs and self-pity than the past seven days have had…

*parp!* Photo Credit: Auntie P via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Auntie P via Compfight cc

Book Review Saturday – ‘Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull’

This whole week has been a total write-off for me. I apologise for the dreadful lack of blogging, but for most of the past seven days I was either unable to sit in a chair for any length of time, and/or unable to focus on a computer screen, and/or struggling to breathe through a lungful of gunk, and/or incapable of thought or concentration or, indeed, semi-normal function for longer than ten minutes together. I caught some sort of virus from somewhere (I think I know where, next-door-neighbours’ little boy, but I’m not looking at anyone in particular) and it knocked me pretty much out. I haven’t been so unwell in a long time.

Lucky, then, I’d read this book just before the worst of my grippe struck, wasn’t it?



You may recall my review of the first book in this series, The Screaming Staircase, which I largely loved (though with a few important reservations); this book is similar, insofar as I loved it for the same reasons as I loved the first one, and hated it for the same reasons, too. There are improvements to be seen, most notably in the way George’s character is described; he’s still compared unfavourably to the ‘hero’, Lockwood, at every turn, but in many senses he is far more sympathetic (and more important, and – at one crucial juncture – far more heroic in his own right). However, we are still regularly reminded that he’s ‘ugly’ (how I hate that word), unattractive, and overweight. It’s not as blatant as the first book, but there’s still too much of it. Please, Mr Stroud, for the next book in this series, give George a break? Or at least give him a scene where he loses his cool and just tells the others to stuff it? Listening to them bully him is bad enough, but watching him take it without question is worse.

I also had the same issues with the cover. Lucy, a girl, narrates the whole story, but who’s on the cover? Surprise, surprise – Lockwood. A boy. Naturally. *insert eyeroll here*

Rant over. On to the good stuff – which is, basically, everything else.

I’m really enjoying the feel, and style, of this series so far. It’s quick-witted, razor-sharp in its dialogue, well plotted and addictive. The setting this time bothered me just a little; for some reason, I had read The Screaming Staircase as being set in an earlier age – perhaps an ‘alternative’ 1940s – but this book seems to be bang up to date, with characters wearing puffa jackets and Doc Marten boots, and the like. Parts of the setting seem so old-fashioned, in the best sense (‘ghost lights’ on the street corners like gaslights in Victorian London; rapiers at the belt of every ghost-hunting Agent; children being sent out to work instead of going to school), so it’s a bit of a jerk to read about modern clothing and some modern technology in the middle of all that. However, it’s not too hard to get your head around.

This time, Lucy, George and Lockwood are in the midst of a case when everything goes wrong (of course), and into the fray step Quill Kipps and his team from the Fittes Agency, who manage to save the day (and the skin of the members of Lockwood and Co) at the last moment. In a show of one-upmanship, the teams make a bet: the next time there’s an open commission on a ghost-hunting mission, they’ll both go up for it, and whoever ‘loses’ has to take out an advertisement in the Times declaring themselves to be infinitely inferior to their rival. Fortuitously, just such a case crops up almost straight away – the body of a long-dead (and much-feared) man, Edmund Bickerstaff, is to be disinterred, and those in charge of it need as many Agents as possible on hand to monitor things, just in case. So, our heroes and the Fittes crew throw their hats in the ring. During the course of the disinterment, everything goes pear-shaped (again), and George ends up making a big mistake – one that almost costs him his life.

When an immensely powerful artifact from Bickerstaff’s coffin then goes missing, the two Agencies pit it out to find it, both of them suspecting the other – and then the mysterious skull, which Lockwood has in his home (and which played a minor role in Book One), begins to speak to Lucy. This communication doesn’t resemble the way way ghosts normally ‘speak’ to the living, of course. The spirit attached to the whispering skull is actually talking to Lucy, taunting her, telling her secrets, giving her clues about the man it was when it lived – and, crucially, hinting that it knew Edmund Bickerstaff. Getting the others to believe this is happening is Lucy’s first challenge, and when she does, they have to decide whether to trust the skull, and how to use what it’s telling them.

This is all going on against the backdrop of the hot chase through the streets of London between the Agents and the relic-men and relic-women, those who steal artifacts (some of which are Sources, or focal points for hauntings) from burials for sale to the highest bidder, and the nasty habit some of them have of turning up dead, or the mysterious room in Lockwood’s home which he has forbidden George and Lucy to enter, and the dreadful pull of something called ‘the bone glass’, made from the stolen bones of seven dead souls, on George’s mind…

This was a great book, told well (though, perhaps, a little too long), with a cracking set of characters, including some new ones. It is funny and compelling and unique, and a whole lot scarier than the first one (which I found quite scary enough, to be honest). With my usual caveats about body-shaming, bullying and ridiculous covers, I heartily recommend it. They’re big caveats, to be sure, but they didn’t spoil the book for me.

Not quite, at least.