Hello 2023, so much has happened primarily my being ill for most of 2022 which thankfully is now almost completely sorted out meaning I can continue writing and blogging again.
I thought I’d share with you all a review of an amazing book by Kazuo Ishiguro I’ve just read.
If I’d read the blurb at the back of this book I’d have dismissed it, as it’s clearly about Artificial Intelligence. But given to me by a friend who assured me that although its a dystopian novel I’d enjoy it. So, I decided to give it a go, and I’m so glad I did. This is a beautiful work of art, a story filled with hope and love.
Klara is the ‘Artificial Friend’ who is purchased for Josie a girl who suffers from an illness that is insinuated to have been the result of her being genetically edited as young people are in this novel. Despite being unable to feel and lacking emotions, man-made Klara displays a stronger love than any of the humans.
The world that the characters inhabit is one that I don’t think I’d like to be a part of as it’s sterile and regimented. The inevitability of children eventually having no need for their ‘Artificial Friends’ says so much about human emotion/love than anything Klara tells us, thus leading to a heart breaking finale.
I loved this book so much I was sad when I turned the last page, I could have gone on reading it forever. I recommend this to anyone looking for book that points out the real reason why people find and feel the need for love.
Many book series begin to run out of steam eventually, but the Letty Parker saga goes from strength to strength. From page one the reader is inside the plot – no meandering passages of descriptive and past prose to take up time – The opening paragraph tells us what we need to know and within a few lines we are in Letty’s world, and a member of Letty Parker and Associates.
As usual Herwin’s writing is well thought out without a word wasted and, in my opinion, this is a stronger book than its predecessor ‘The Hanging Tree’. This may be down to the fact that all the characters seem to have an equal amount of action. Hepzebah, usually a passive character is stronger in this book and Mango has grown into a clever young man. The addition of Newton and Copernica bring in a rich mix of personalities.
There’s the undercurrent of her crush for – is it Gabriel or Jeb, – I don’t think Letty is aware either. This makes her decision making clouded at times and she finds it difficult to understand her feelings. (Oh the joy of youth) I particularly like that Letty has a strong moral code and can see this making her a good role model for the book’s target audience. The magic is well designed and consistent through each of the five books, with the Dark Ones still having ultimate power, add to this some witches and dragons and you get a perfect mix of grown-up fantasy for the YA market.
To enjoy a Gathering of Gargoyles you don’t need to have read the first books in the series, but why would you deprive yourself of such rich storytelling. Go out and seek the others in the series, you’ll not be disappointed. I’d can say more but not without giving away spoilers, so I’ll let you read it and become absorbed in Letty’s Bristol.
We had the second semi-final offerings last night and it falls upon my shoulders to give my honest review of the proceedings, I have to say I was less than impressed with most of the second show’s offerings, but as it’s all subjective here’s my thoughts:
An impressive opening to show number two with the dancers dressed in suits, the choreography was slick but why did they end with six dancers dressed in green body suits – made no sense.
Laura Pausini wore better frocks this time but why did her hair look like she’d just stepped out of the shower? And talking about Laura, the duet with Mika was dreadful. Opening with the Sting song, Fragile, she was shrill, and he struggled to hit the notes. For a better duet go and listen to Sting’s version with Julio Iglesias. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZ8g9rZOX_I
Finland: The Rasmus with Jezebel.
Great opening, The Rasmus show that they are an accomplished act and it’s no surprise they were chosen to open the show. The hints of yellow against black were just enough of a gimmick, including the yellow guitar strings to make their performance more user friendly. The singer looks like the Finnish cousin of Chucky as he leaps around the stage, but the song in my opinion was safe in comparison to other Finnish metal. 4/5
Israel: Michael Ben David with I.M.
Here we go, onto the stage comes Campy McCamp who’s channelling Madonna and wearing one of her second hand corsets over his shirt. He’s trying his best to be a diva, blending Conchita Wurst with Dana International but failing. The song is blocky, no proper structure, verses that don’t move effortlessly into the chorus. And DON’T WINK AT THE CAMERA, it’s annoying. 2/5
Serbia: Konstrakta with In Corpore Sano.
What the actual –
Opening lyrics talk about Meghan Markle’s hair as the singer sits centre stage looking like a fortune teller with henchman surrounding her – very GoT. She proceeds to wash her hands telling us all the ailments we can suffer from – a cheery little ditty this is not. This is awful, and makes me wonder what songs the Serbia rejected were before they chose this one. I spent much of the performance cringing and wondering at what point she’d lean forward and predict the lottery numbers. 0/5
Azerbaijan: Nadir Rustamli with Fade To Black.
Since winning with Running Scared in 2011 Azerbaijan have struggled to produce anything else that would tickle the voters taste buds, but they’ve managed to strike gold with this track. Simple staging supported by a great vocal. This will do well I think. 4/5
Georgia: Circus Mircus with Lock Me In.
This was bonkers, but fun. A willy Wonka look-a-like (Johnny Depp version) A man with more shrubbery in his beard than Charlie Dimmock could use on a garden make-over and another in a gimp mask. The song was a tad psychedelic but it lifted the proceedings. I’m not sure if this will be appealing though. 3/5
Malta: Emma Muscat with I Am What I Am.
Her bio reads: As well as being in-demand, singer, Muscat also composes music, writes lyrics, and is an accomplished pianist. The song is called, I Am What I Am and sadly I can tell you what you’re not, and that is a good singer. She starts off for 10 seconds at a piano then moves away – waste of staging – then we’re subjected to wobbly and at times screechy vocals. 2/5
San Marino: Achille Lauro with Stripper.
And the award for trying to hard to emulate last year’s winners, Måneskin goes to …
Looking like an extra from a Rocky Horror Show audience Achille has a song that sounds very much like it was written for the 1970’s Glitter Band. Musicians in cages and a bucking bronco says it all. This was dire. 2/5
Australia: Sheldon Riley with Not The Same.
If there has ever been a singer so desperate for stardom it’s Sheldon. He’s auditioned and appeared on America’s Got Talent, X factor USA and several countries’ productions of The Voice. I’m wondering if it could be the metal he covers his face with that people find off putting or just that this contrived image is, well, too contrived. Looking like a crystal encrusted meringue this vision in white bleats on about how he’s different to other boys – so boring and so last decade – I really don’t like his voice and sadly I find him pretentious. 2/5
Cyprus: Andromache with Ela.
The lights go up and there she is, standing in a shell looking like Botticelli’s Venus, the anticipation is palpable and then she starts to sing, badly. Even the traditional sounding backbeat couldn’t save this car crash of a song. 1/5
Ireland: Brooke with That’s Rich.
The show has just got interesting, Brooke is a breath of fresh air after so many slow and turgid songs. The staging is slick and her vocals are on point. This is proper euro-pop but maybe a little too much bubble gum to appeal to the Eastern European voters. 4/5
North Macedonia: Andrea with Circles.
Looking like she’s picked a random coat off the shelf in a charity shop this is a dull vocal teamed with lots of surly looks at the camera. Sadly this performance and the song is as appealing as haemorrhoids. Another offering that made wonder what’s going on this year? 2/5
Estonia: Stefan with Hope.
Yee-Ha! the cowboy song. I can see his appeal but this was a case of The Good, The Bad and The Unremarkable. I think this will do well. HE’S ANOTHER WINKER – stop it! 3/5
Romania: WRS with Llámame.
When this started I thought Israel had decided to have another go, but no it was Campy McCamp II and another act channelling Madonna, this time from the La Isla Bonita period. As an ex TV backing dancer he worked the stage and thankfully didn’t wink at us. I particularly liked the Bucks Fizz costume reveal and overall thought his performance outshone Israel’s similar artist. 4/5
Poland: Ochman with River.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Nice looking man with a great voice. Simple staging and well crafted song. I just questioned the need to have him share the stage with Macbeth’s witches. 5/5
Montenegro: Vladana with Breathe.
Oh dear, looking like she’d fallen backwards and become impaled on an oscillating desk fan the costume may have been impressive but sadly the song wasn’t. The commentator said this was her first song in 10 years, I’m guessing there’ll be an equally long period before her next offering. 2/5
Belgium: Jérémie Makiese with Miss You.
Why didn’t this blow me away, the intro was full of promise, very Bond sounding but the vocals didn’t have the depth to carry the song forward. Dancers that looked like creepy stalkers in the background. Sadly he looked like he was working in the warehouse at Amazon rather than performing and what was with the astronaut boots, did he fear gravity would let him down? 3/5
Sweden: Cornelia Jakobs with Hold Me Closer.
No gimmicks, just great vocals and a great song. I loved this simple performance where her voice did all the hard work. 5/5
Czech Republic: We Are Domi with Lights Off.
Started with an 80’s vibe reminiscent of OMD and Human League then morphed into 90’s club culture. Retro rave track but with uninspiring lyrics and a singer that struggled with the song as she only had a limited vocal range and one big note. This would have benefitted with a stronger singer. 3/5
So the voting took place and here’s who got through along with my ratings out of 5 points.
Tomorrow I’ll give my verdict on the acts that are guaranteed a place in the final.
So it’s Eurovision time again, and tonight we saw the first of the semi-finals where the acts are whittled down for the final. This is excluding those countries that have paid to enter like France, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom (not that paying so far has got us above single figure points).The acts are listed below as country, act and song title.
The show was hosted by Scott Mills in beige and Rylan with sleeves that looked unfinished. The opening dance routine was an assemblage of styles and genres and lots and lots of shiny fabric. The hosts arrived; the Italian popstar Laura Pausini, who looked awful in cerise with matching eyeshadow that made her look like she’d done a few rounds with Tyson Fury. Mika didn’t fair well, he was unnatural, you could see him reading the autocue so much so he’d not look out of place using his finger to underline the words.
So without further ado, here’s my verdict on the songs:
Albania: Ronela Hajati with Sekret.
Looking like she’d raided the dressing up box and picked an outfit that was too small, Ronela bursts onto stage with a yell and keeps shouting for the next three-minutes. Looking like a quasi I Dream of Genie extra the song is repetitive and really doesn’t go anywhere. 2/5
Their bio says – Citi Zēni are an award-winning, 6-piece band from Riga, they are the self-proclaimed ‘Princes of Rap’ and ‘Divas of 21st Century Pop’ known for their energetic performances, eccentric style and their cheeky lyrics. Sadly primary coloured suits and wide smiles do not say eccentric and cheeky to me. Any important message in the lyrics is lost in this mish mash of music, that at times sounds like a direct copy of the hook in Sax, the X Factor finalist, Fleur East’s song. 2/5
Lithuania: Monika Liu with Sentimentai.
With three albums under her belt and appearances on Lithuania’s Masked Singer and The Voice Monika commanded the stage at once. With echo’s of Bassey and a great hairstyle she seductively performed her song, looking like a hybrid of Piaf and Sophie Ellis Bextor. A throwback to 1970’s light entertainment staging but a cracking song and great vocal. 5/5
Switzerland: Marius Bear with Boys Do Cry.
Another throwback, this time to the 1980’s with a leather jacket that was too big. An image that suggested he needed a Stock, Aitken and Waterman sequence track behind it to lift the song. Marius gave up a career as a construction machinery mechanic to pursue one in music, I think it’ll be a short career. Boring voice and dead pan delivery, but I can see people liking it – I didn’t. 3/5
Slovenia: LPS with Disko.
LPS stands for Last Pizza Slice, silly name. Static musicians flanking a huge glitterball delivering a song that had a retro sound to it, reminiscent at times of Jamiroquai with a middle eight that needed the sultry tones of Luther Vandross to save it, the song wasn’t bad, the performance was bland. 4/5
Ukraine: Kalush Orchestra with Stefania.
This song is a tribute to one of the band member’s mother. This combo fuse hip-hop with traditional folk vibes. The staging was odd, two men dressed like car wash brushes either side of the band and another in what looked like graffiti covering him who leapt around in a distracting fashion. The audience liked this, I’m guessing to show support for the war torn country, but I think it’ll be sad if they win with votes of sympathy rather than merit. As a song it was just a little bit meh! 3/5
Bulgaria: Intelligent Music Project with Intention.
A self proclaimed supergroup of musicians who missed a trick. Safe American style soft rock with a singer styled in the image of Dave Grohl with a touch of Johnny Depp. The best part of this song was the middle eight as everything else was easily forgetful. 3/5
Netherlands: S10 with De Diepte.
S10, actual name Stien den Hollander, is a 21 year old Dutch singer, rapper and songwriter and darling of the alt-pop scene. A boring performance that couldn’t be saved by her decision not to wear a blouse. Lots of da da da da lyrics – awful. 1/5
Moldova: Zdob si Zdub & Advahov Bros with Trenuletul.
Hurrah, a nod to their country’s traditional music. This is what Eurovision is all about, fun, tradition and great stage presence. Shouts of ‘Hey Ho! Let’s Go’ for this song charting the journey on a train. 5/5
Portugal: MARO with Saudade, Saudade.
She’s supported some big names including Jessie J but I didn’t like this offering. The staging was dull as was the song and I wanted to tell her to stop shaking her head when she warbled. Harmonies were good though. 1/5
Croatia: Mia Dimšić with Guilty Pleasure.
Mia’s had two chart topping albums in Croatia so as you’d expect she looked confident on stage, even if it looked like half of her dress had been torn away by a wild beast. The dancers were distracting just wandering about the stage doing nothing much. A pleasant enough song, but is it memorable? 4/5
Denmark: REDDI with The Show.
Four female musicians make up REDDI and they say that this song represents their views on women being able to achieve just as much as men. “It’s all about daring to do what you want regardless of your gender. We want to tell the world that you should not let the outside world stop you from doing what you dream of.”
Great opening even though it had echoes of Never Enough from The Greatest Showman. Reddi are The Bangles on steroids and they woke up the audience. 5/5
Austria: LUM!X feta Pia Maria with Halo.
LUM!X is the moniker for Luca Michlmayr, the musician behind the 2017 international hit, Monster by Eiffel 65. For this offering he stood behind the decks while Pia, looking like a fan of Fraggle Rock belted out what was a 1990’s dance track. Sadly dated and uninteresting. 3/5
Iceland: Systur with Með Hækkandi Sól.
It’s a family affair from Iceland, three sisters and a brother make up the band that were in my opinion the most boring act of the evening. Like throwbacks from the hippy era the song never picked up and sounded empty. I think they possibly hadn’t had time to thaw out before performing. 1/5
Greece: Armanda Giorgiadi Tenfjord with Die Together.
Odd vocal effect in the opening verses and broken chairs all over the stage – Why? A well structured song with diva elements, a crowd pleaser. 4/5
Norway: Subwoolfer with Give That Wolf A Banana.
According to Subwoolfer they formed 4.5 billion years ago and are the biggest band in the galaxy. You can always rely on Norway to bring something odd to the competition and they don’t disappoint. Lunacy but catchy and it’s obvious that the audience like this. Before that wolf eats my grandma, give that wolf a banana what a genius lyric. 4/5
Armenia: Rosa Linn with Snap.
Interesting staging using sheets of paper, but what they dressed her in was bland and made her blend in rather than look like she was the focus of the performance – she looked like a cold cappuccino singing surrounded by napkins. That said it was a good song and vocal delivery. 4/5
A quick comment of the offerings by Italy and France – Italy the song is a horrible noise and France’s song is as appealing as shingles.
Finally, who dressed Lauara Pausini, her second dress made her look like a panto evil queen and the third was equally as awful as the first.
So, who got through, did my scoring reflect the voting choices? No. Here’s the contestants through and the rating I gave them above.
“Friends help you stick your life back together when it’s falling to pieces.” Is a sentiment I can relate to. Throughout my life my friends have been there for me in the darkest and the best of times.
It’s not surprising then that friendship is a theme in quite a few of my novels, particularly in “Picking up the Pieces”. It plays a huge part too in “The Adventures of Letty Parker,” and so I am not surprised that it features in the latest Poppy and Amelia book, although this time it was Maddy who was the driving force behind the story line.
Right from the beginning she decided that the apprentice witches’ new term at Ashley Park school was going to be disrupted by the arrival of a new pupil. Right from the start, the mysterious Bayonica Duvane is out to cause trouble. Strange things start to happen to…
My 2021 year-long film project is now completed and available to see on YouTube, hopefully sometime in 2022 I will get to show it on a screen or two.
From January 1st 2021 until December 31st 2021 I shot video every day and took 10 seconds from it, it may have been something I was doing, or going, or the weather, or Oskar the dog, or well all sort of things. Over those images I laid computer-generated random words in a random colour, so there was no relationship between the image and word, though your brain tries to find one, if it does, your brain is wrong.
I’ve been reading the Hanging Tree by Misha Herwin, the latest in the Adventures of Letty Parker series set in Bristol, where ‘Dark Ones’ hide in shadows, dragons spread gossip and pockets can be picked faster than an Olympic gold medal winning runner.
Here’s my review:
How do you write a review about a book you’ve loved and just finished reading without giving away too much, so I’ll promise no spoilers. Having just finished reading the fourth book in the Letty Parker series I’m already hoping for a fifth. My concern for authors who write a series is that they’ll run out of steam and the next installment will be a pale imitation of the one before – not here thankfully. The Hanging Tree is a vibrant tale, full of twists and turns and an excellent follow on from Island of Fear, so much so the narrative skips back to the previous adventure at times and it makes for a richer tale.
Jebediah Hill is a perfect literary hero, he has an unwritten charisma that makes me think of him as a young Keanu Reeves, good looks but coupled with polite attitude. Jebediah could find trouble in an empty cardboard box, or rather, does it seek him out as it does in the Hanging tree. Due to his predicament it’s down to Letty, Mango, Hephzibah and a cast of great authorial imaginings to solve the puzzle.
Letty is a tomboy, there’s no doubt about it, but she’s every inch a girl rather than a defiant, pseudo-boy character. She’s demure when the need arises and hard as a tack when trouble comes her way. She’s confident yet self-denigrating and often must stop herself from getting an attack of ‘the glooms.’ She’s had a hard life and we’re told this in the storyline, but she doesn’t let it hold her back. Whether she’s fighting injustice or eels Letty is a character full of verve and tenacity. A perfect heroine for the modern age in a book that doesn’t need to feature a phone, an app or a broadband connection.
The text has a danger of taking you headlong into the story and stealing your time as it’s definitely an un-put-down-able-book. Crafted with great care and attention the narrative flows with expected peaks and troughs but without any breaks in the tale. There’s no filler in Herwin’s work, each word is considered and used to its greatest effect. She has an innate understanding of what her target audience (8 -12 years) want, and she delivers just that.
Finally, I have to say, Misha Herwin has the knack of inventing names that match her characters perfectly. The Hanging Tree was a joy to read, and I’d urge anyone to visit the earlier books too.
Originally I had this saved as a draft for a post about writing groups and what happened last Wednesday made me think about the importance of a good writers’ group. Groups are abundant and range from those that meet in church halls to those that are funded by universities and publishers, but I believe the two fundamental things a group needs is leadership and trust.
Going back several years I joined a writing group, Renegade Writers. We met in a front room of a pub and shared our stories with each other and listened, gave advice and supported each other. This wasn’t (and still isn’t) a happy-clappy group where we slap each other on the back and heap praise on what we hear. There’s been many people come along who couldn’t accept that we, tell it as it is – we give honest appraisals – and they’ve never returned. I advise anyone looking to join a writing group to seek out one giving constructive criticism rather than just a pat on the back for your contribution.
Since the pandemic our Wednesday evening meetings have been conducted via video with each of us logging in to discuss whatever members’ have uploaded in advance. And it’s about our interaction as a group that I’m writing about today. I’m working on a new novel and so there’s all the initial excitement and note-taking that goes with it and the need to let people hear the initial chapters I’ve written.
My first foray elicited feedback from a trusted member about my main character’s name, which I had chosen specifically because of a shot of humour I wanted to inject. I then went away and thought about it and decided that for the sake of one joke it wasn’t worth having a name people might question, so it was changed – in fact four characters had name ch ch changes that week.
Another reading of a chapter brought me feedback from PC (our illustrious leader) about a whole section that although written well said very little and added nothing to the story – chc ch changes.
Last week it was pointed out to me that a female character might react differently to a situation I’d put her in and so that needs to be looked at as does her relationship with her husband. – ch ch changes.
Finally it was pointed out to me that my setting was wrong, that the properties I had created would have to be older as they don’t build them now commercially as they’re not commercially viable in the 2020’s. Ch ch changes again.
So it goes to show that you must be prepared to listen to advice and make any necessary changes as you go along and for this you need a good writers’ group. Thankfully I have an excellent one.
A week ago I was stuck on my current work in progress. I knew what the novel was about and I’d worked out a chapter by chapter plan, but actually writing it was like wading through porridge. My dialogue was flat, the links between paragraphs was clunky and the characters had somehow lost their spark. I was in a slough and didn’t know how to get out into the sunlit uplands of a free-flowing narration.
All the usual things had been tried, short sharp bouts, longer writing sessions, going for walks, writing down anything that came into my head. Not even the rubbish this produced could clear the blockage.
Tempted to give up on the whole thing, I couldn’t be bothered to bring my problem to my writing group. I should have known better, because that’s where it all happened.
There’s a real sense of achievement when you’ve written the last sentence, nay, the final word of a novel. It’s a feeling that you think will diminish the more you write. When I wrote my novella, Willow and the Motorway Horses, it was mostly for fun and wasn’t intended for digestion by the public – it’s out there on Amazon still – so I let the completion wash over me.
I had an idea kicking around in my head for a one woman show for many years but hadn’t tackled it in a serious way. Until then I’d just written a few monologues and ideas down. Then needing something to show the writers’ group, I began to write the story proper and 52 or as it’s also called, One More Week was born. I felt euphoric when I actually completed it, it didn’t matter that agents didn’t like the subject matter: Having cancer can never be humourous, or the fact it’s in the first person: Most readers’ prefer books in the third person, they find it hard to relate directly to the protagonist. And my favourite response: This would make a good stage play. However, we don’t handle scripts.
I thought the feeling would fade after that, but no, once I’d finished novel number two the same feeling of accomplishment flooded my consciousness. And now this week as I have finished the final draft of novel three I’m basking in the glow of achievement once again. It does help that I’ve written, (I think) my best novel yet. It’s gone from scribbling it down to two final drafts and it’s now ready to be … I’m not sure yet. To self-publish or send to agents, is a decision I need to mull over for now.
But as I relish the feeling of triumph, I’m looking back at my notes and the planning – I’m a great planner, everything from chapter outlines, timelines and character profiles. A skill passed on to me by Lorraine Mace, writer of the best selling DI Sterling series of books and an excellent creative writing mentor. It’s while I’m looking through my notes that I smile when I look at my word count spreadsheet:
And my list of all the names used in the novel, I keep a list so that I don’t replicate any names. I’m amazed how many names I have used in this book which is essentially about just five friends. Maybe it’s indicative of the many interactions we have in life that go unnoticed.
Finally, the solitary sense of pride felt when the final word is written is all part of the insular world of a writer. It’s at times a lonely job, but there’s always outside influences that have shaped the written work, other input that has encouraged it to grow and in my case it’s been the support of a writers’ group: a hotchpotch of genre writers. A mix of accomplished wordsmiths. I think of our group as a blender sat on the kitchen worktop filled with editors, illustrators and educationalists and publishers all whizzed up to create a smoothie filled with advice, criticism and honesty. And without any of this outside assistance I’d not be in the position I’m in now –
Grinning, with a smile in danger of collapsing in on itself because once again I have written that final word.