Last Word

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Book Review: Echoes From The Macabre: Selected Stories, Daphne du Maurier

As a follow up to my posts about Daphne du Maurier’s fiction and her adopted county of Cornwall, here is a review of her 1976 collection Echoes From The Macabre: Selected Stories (Gollancz), a reprint collection focusing on some of the author’s more horrific tales. The stories date from the period 1952-71. They are: ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘The Birds’, ‘The Apple Tree’, ‘The Old Man’, ‘The Pool’, ‘The Blue Lenses’, ‘The Chamois’, ‘Not After Midnight’, and ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’. …

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The 5th New Media Writing Prize

Recently I was a guest at the 5th New Media Writing Prize awards ceremony at Bournemouth University. The Prize was originally established in conjunction with the Poole Literary Festival, and as part of the Festival I was involved in promoting the Prize in its first year. This year was the first time since then that I have been able to return, and it was gratifying to see how, under the enthusiastic direction of Dr James Pope, BA English Framework Leader at BU and competition director …

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Daphne du Maurier Country – Rebecca to the Macabre

If Dorset’s most celebrated writer is Thomas Hardy then Cornwall’s is surely Daphne du Maurier. So never having read it before, I decided to prepare for our holiday by reading her most famous novel, Rebecca. I was familiar with the Hitchcock film, and with the 1997 TV mini-series, but the only du Maurier I had previously read was the novella ‘Don’t Look Now’ and the short story, ‘The Birds’. The former, of course, provided the basis for the great Nic Roeg film …

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Film Review: Mr. Nobody

Mr. Nobody is the best film I’ve ever seen that hardly anyone has ever heard about. If you are interested in great cinema, or simply in imaginative storytelling and story construction then you owe it to yourself to see this unknown masterpiece. Mr. Nobody is a 2009 Belgian, German, French, Canadian co-production, set in England and Canada and filmed in English. It was made on a budget of around $47 million, but looks like it cost at least three times that. …

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Cloud Atlas, Skyfall and the McDonald’s-isation of Storytelling

This post is a follow-up to Cloud Atlas Shrugged – or let the Skyfall. The first post was written in February 2013, this one that December. Both were originally published on Amazing Stories. The subject of both posts is the death of originality and creative storytelling in Hollywood cinema, but it applies equally to the drive to publish books as franchises rather than self-contained, individual novels. Back in February, I wrote about the difference in the …

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Cloud Atlas Shrugged – or let the Skyfall

Here is something I wrote a while ago, back in February 2013, and which was originally published on Amazing Stories. It still seems relevant, and with David Mitchell’s latest book, The Bone Clocks, now out, in case you missed it before, here it again. Cloud Atlas paperback coverOn Monday the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, was released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK. Tomorrow Cloud Atlas will open in UK cinemas. Two films, poles apart. Skyfall, the 23th entry …

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Exploring Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall

In June we went to Cornwall, to Daphne du Maurier country, so here are some photos relating to all things du Maurier from our short holiday. One day in 1936 the young Daphne du Maurier was out riding on Bodmin Moor with her friend Foy Quiller-Couch. They became lost, but eventually found their way to the Jamaica Inn. While recovering from their ordeal Daphne and Foy heard tales of long ago smuggling adventures and du Maurier was inspired to write her fourth novel. …

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Interview: Jonathan Oliver, editor-in-chief, Solaris Books

Jonathan Oliver is one of the UK’s top genre editors. He is also a novelist, short story author and creator of shared-worlds. Recently I interviewed him by email. – Gary Dalkin: “You are editor-in-chief of three imprints – Solaris, Ravenstone and Abaddon Books – all published by Rebellion Publishing Ltd. What is your background and how did you end up in your current position? Perhaps for readers who are not familiar with Rebellion you could outline the idea behind each of …

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Book Review: The Kings of Eternity, Eric Brown

The Kings of Eternity is a novel with one foot happily in the mainstream and one in genre. As such it is a book which may baffle those who don’t ‘get it’; a novel written unapologetically for those of us who have grown-up with genre fiction but who also read and appreciate writing sometimes classified as ‘literary fiction’. Not that such a distinction holds much water, is rather a false dichotomy; genre being delineated by content, ‘literary fiction’ being assumed by some as involving …

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Book Review: The Fictional Man, Al Ewing

Niles Golan is an ex-pat Brit in Hollywood. Never grown-up, he narrates his life with an internal monologue transforming his everyday inadequacies into triumphs. Niles is his own fictional creation: to himself, a genius novelist akin to the young Thomas Pynchon; to everyone else, the hack who writes the popular Kurt Power adventures novels. His ambition is to launch a movie franchise, but to get the chance he has to pitch a remake of his teenage-self’s favourite film. …

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They Do Things Differently There

The original version of the article was written for Amazing Stories and published as ‘Doctor Who and the Strange Victorians’. The starting point was the 2012 Doctor Who Christmas Special, ‘The Snowmen’, in which a young woman, the Doctor’s new companion, falls down a metaphorical rabbit hole in Victorian London. As Doctor Who approached its 50th birthday (celebrated in 2013) executive producer and writer Steven Moffat appeared to be transforming the programme into …

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Book Review: Falling Over, James Everington

Falling Over was the first book I read by James Everington, and this is a revised version of a review I wrote for Amazing Stories last year. Since then I have interviewed the author and reviewed his first two self-published books, The Shelter (a novella) and The Other Room (a story collection), again for Amazing Stories. On his website James Everington says that his main influences are writers such as Ramsey Campbell, Shirley Jackson and Robert Aickman, and that he enjoys …

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Blu-ray Review: The Man Who Haunted Himself

The Man Who Haunted Himself is, as the title suggests both a ghost and a doppelgänger story, and as such is a rather unique tale of the uncanny, unfolding perhaps much as one might imagine a feature-length, British Twilight Zone. The film starts with business man Harold Pelham (Roger Moore) leaving his London office and driving west out of the city, but then…something happens to him. He starts to speed, driving ever more recklessly. There are shots of another …

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Book Review: The Prisoner of Heaven, Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Prisoner of Heaven is, according to the forward, ‘part of a cycle of novels set in the universe of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, of which The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game are the first two installments. Although each work within the cycle presents an independent, self-contained tale, they are all connected through characters and storylines, creating thematic and narrative links. Each individual installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series …

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Film & CD Review: Wakolda (The German Doctor)

Wakolda (retitled The German Doctor in the US) is the latest film from Argentine writer-director Lucía Puenzo. Little known in the English speaking world, Lucía Penzo is the daughter of Luis Puenzo, celebrated for La historia oficial, which in 1986 won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Foreign (Language) Film, as well as sweeping nine of the Argentinian Film Critics Association Awards, including Best Film. Lucía co-wrote her father’s best work, La Puta y La Bellena, which …

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Film Review: La Puta y la Bellena

Almost entirely unknown in the English-speaking world, the Argentine-Spanish co-production, La Puta y la Ballena (2004) is one of the most hauntingly beautiful, intelligent, and imaginative films of the last decade. From the trailer one might anticipate a cross between Land and Freedom (present day protagonist investigates old letters and uncovers a personal connection to events during the Spanish Civil War), and The English Patient (elegantly evoked period romance …

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Book Review: Night Film, Marisha Pessl

Night Film is the second novel by Marisha Pessl, the follow-up to her 2006 award-winning bestseller, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. It recounts the quest of disgraced investigative journalist Scott McGrath to uncover the truth about reclusive film director Stanislas Cordova. Some years previously Scott was manipulated into making a serious allegation against the director on the TV news programme Nightline, an unsubstantiated claim which seriously damaged …

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Book Review: Stardust, Nina Allan

Stardust is one of three books by Nina Allan published so far this year. First was the story collection Microcosmos. Next came the novella, Spin. Now we have Stardust, published as a very striking hardback by PS Publishing as PS Showcase #11. Stardust is subtitled The Ruby Castle Stories, but who (or what) is Ruby Castle? Actually Ruby Castle is a person, rather than a place. But these six stories and a poem tell us very little about her. She only appears in one story, and then …

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Book Review: Spin, Nina Allan

Nina Allan’s Spin is the second in a series of novellas published by the Third Alternative Press, home of leading UK genre magazines Interzone and Black Static. I should mention that the book was sent to me by the author because she liked my Amazing Stories review of her collection, Microcosmos. She also sent me a copy of her other new book, Stardust, which I review here. So I am predisposed to like Spin. Set in an alternate Greece, Spin is a reworking of the myth of Arachne. Layla is a weaver, a …

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Book Review: The Peacock Cloak, Chris Beckett

Chris Beckett has been publishing short stories since 1990. His debut novel was The Holy Machine, followed by Marcher, and last year, Dark Eden,which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for the Best SF novel published in the UK in 2012. His first collection of short fiction, The Turing Test (2008), won the Edge Hill Prize. The Peacock Cloak is his second collection, bringing together a dozen stories first published between 2008-12. Most of these stories originally appeared in Asimov’s or …

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Book Review: Growing Pains, Ian Whates

Growing Pains is a new collection from the highly talented British author and editor Ian Whates. Whates is the author of the Noise series of space operas and the urban fantasy trilogy City of 100 Rows. He edits the on-going Solaris Rising anthologies and various entries in the Mammoth Book of series, including the Alternate Histories and SF Wars volumes. Whates also manages his own NewCon Press. You can read my review of the recent NewCon Press edition of …

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Book Review: Intrusion, Ken MacLeod

Some decades from now, Hope Morrison is a young woman living in London with her husband, Hugh, and four year old son, Nick. Health & Safety laws have driven most women from the workplace, so Hope works from home answering enquiries, translated into English, for a Chinese website. Solar panel farms in Africa have ended Hugh’s first career as a wind power engineer – his father Nigel still works on the family home island of Lewis, now dismantling the giant …

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Guest Post: Writers as Workers – What Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals Teaches Us About Writing

Reading about writers and their techniques is an interesting experience, particularly when you have your own writing ambitions. It is tempting to think that we can learn something from the lives of great writers that will help us to emulate their literary successes simply by taking on some of their habits and quirks, and this is a temptation that can only be fuelled further by Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work. …

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Guest Post: The Ethics of Self-Plagiarising

Is it ever okay for a writer to self-plagiarise? This is a question many writers struggle with; every piece of work comes from our soul and we should do what we want with it as many times as we want! Many of us will print short stories on the Internet then use those same stories for a series of books. When does it cross the line and get us into trouble, though? It’s essential for us, as writers, to avoid blacklisting ourselves in writer circles due to plagiarism, even if we are plagiarizing ourselves. …

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The Mirror of Our Dreams

There is a curious phenomenon not exclusive to science fiction fandom, it is prevalent in pop music worship and other places, by which those afflicted feel a need to establish rivalries. The Star Wars fan who vociferously attacks all things Star Trek. And vice versa. The Star Trek fan determined to argue against every facet of Babylon 5. Those who can not enjoy both The X Files and Fringe. New Who vs Old Who. It goes on. These rivalries exist almost exclusively in the minds of fans. It is …

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Book Review: Bellefleur, Joyce Carol Oates

As I mentioned in my post Stephen King – A Beginner’s Guide I became interested in the work of Joyce Carol Oates because of her association with King. As early as Danse Macabre (1981) King was writing admiringly about Oates’ work. The compliment was returned when Oates introduced King’s speaking engagement at Princeton in 1997. Bellefleur is the first book I have read by Joyce Carol Oates. She has written a vast number of titles, rivalling King in her output. So many …

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Book Review: Joyland, Stephen King

In Stephen King’s best novel in years, 11.22.63 (2011), the veteran author revisited the period of his youth, the 1950s and ‘60s. A character from the present, our present, went back to 1958, encountered love, tried to stop a killer. In King’s Joyland it is a decade after the fall of America’s Camelot. In the summer of 1973 Devin Jones, a young man working his way through college (University of New Hampshire) takes a dogsbody job (pun very much intended) at an old style amusement park. On the …

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Book Review: Microcosmos, Nina Allan

In the forward to Microcosmos Nina Allan explains that, having forgotten the finer details of the requirements for the collection, with her stories tending to ‘run away with themselves’ and being rather long for short stories, she had amassed considerably more material than the book would be able to contain. She had intended a survey of her work from the publication of her first book, A Thread of Truth (2007) up to The Silver Wind (2011). However, with a target length of 60,000 …

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Stephen King – A Beginner’s Guide

For a long time I paid no attention to the writing of Joyce Carol Oates. But I kept seeing her mentioned in the context of modern American Gothic, being recommended by writers whose work I loved, particularly Stephen King. The admiration was mutual. In 1997 Oates introduced King when he gave his first reading at Princeton University. That day she described him as a great writer of Gothic horror. At different points in their careers King and Oates even had the same editor …

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The Invention of Iain M. Banks

This piece was originally posted on 18 April, 2012. I’m reposting it now in memory of Iain Banks, who died on Sunday 9 June, 2013. I have recently reread Iain M. Banks 1988 novel The Player of Games. I did so because I have been selected as a World Book Night book giver, and of the 25 available titles the one I chose to give away was the Banks. I had a hard time picking, and I want to explain why I selected this particular book. But first, if you don’t know about World Book Night take a look …

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Book Review: Objects in Dreams, Lisa Tuttle

Lisa Tuttle has long been one of the masters of the deeply unsettling tale. Last year her short story Objects in Dreams may be Closer than they Appear opened Jonathan Oliver’s excellent anthology, House of Fear, a collection of haunted and otherwise strange homes. That was one of my favourite books of the year, and that Tuttle’s tale was chosen to open a volume containing new work by such writers as Chaz Brenchley, Eric Brown, Christopher Fowler, Garry Kilworth, Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Lebbon and …

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Book Reviews: This Shared Dream & In War Times, Kathleen Ann Goonan

Kathleen Ann Goonan’s In War Times, originally published in 2007, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel and the ALA’s Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year. A complex exploration of the political implications of alternative history, In War Times begins in 1941, with Sam Dance being given documents that lead to the opening of a parallel world in which Dance’s brother, Keenan, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor to work for a better future — as does Sam in “our” …

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Personal Best

Every so often the SF news magazine Locus runs a top ten poll. The most recent poll closed at the end of November. It focused on the 20th and 21st centuries, with separate categories for SF and Fantasy novels and combined rankings for SF/Fantasy novellas, novelettes, and short stories. These were ‘write-in’ polls, so nothing was excluded. For the 20th century each poll offered 10 places, for the 21st century, five. To fill it all in conscientiously required a lot of …

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Things Fall Apart

Yesterday I read three articles worth considering for anyone serious about writing fiction. The first was The Widening Gyre: 2012 Best of the Year Anthologies by Paul Kincaid, written for the LA Review of Books. This piece looked at Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction : Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection, Richard Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy : 2012 Edition and the Nebula Awards Showcase 2012. Kincaid begins his lengthy and extremely well …

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How to send a Word, RFT or PDF file to a Kindle

I was at a party recently and got talking about things you can do with a Kindle that don’t include buying full price e-books. This was clearly something people really wanted to know about and I said I’d follow-up with a blog post. So here is how you can send a Microsoft Word DOC, DOCX, RTF (Rich Text Format) or Adobe PDF document to a Kindle. There are many occasions when it may be convenient to read a long document on your Kindle rather than on your PC or laptop. I find …

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Bad News Customer Reviews

What use are Amazon customer reviews, or indeed the user reviews on any website? During Amazon’s first decade the company employed a team of freelance writers to review books, videos and DVDs. I was one of them. Crucially, our opinions remained our own. But we worked to guidelines which included being factually accurate, not committing libel and avoiding spoilers. Then Amazon introduced customer reviews, and the result is now a caveat emptor free-for-all. While many …

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Book Review: Adrift on the Sea of Rains, Ian Sales

Adrift on the Sea of Rains is the first volume in Ian Sales Apollo Quartet. Available as a limited edition hardback (75 signed copies), paperback and ebook, this science fiction adventure falls between alternative history and parallel world story. It is the late 1980’s, the Cold War has gone nuclear and all that’s left of the human race is the crew of the US moon base Falcon. Colonel Peterson is looking for a way home before the food runs out. Hopes lie in a partially understood piece …

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Ian Hocking’s Saskia Brandt Series

Ian Hocking has kindly sent me ebooks of the first two titles in his Saskia Brandt Series, Déjà Vu and Flashback. Déjà-VuSet a decade from now these are extremely fast-paced science fiction action thrillers involving advanced computer technology, virtual reality and time travel. As the blurb says, scientist David Proctor is running for his life. On his trail is Saskia Brandt, a detective with the European FIB. She has questions. Questions about a bomb that exploded back in 2003. …

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A Game of Pride and Prejudice

An interesting piece by Amanda Craig has appeared on the Telegraph website. The article, centered around the HBO television series of George R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones novels, joins the vast pile of opinion pieces addressing the debate ‘can fantasy fiction ever be any good’. Which is to say, should authors use their imagination or confine themselves to looking out the window and typing? These opinion pieces begin by stating the default premise, that fantasy …

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Free PDF Proofreading Stamps

Here’s a little something special for proofreaders who work with PDFs. The wonderfully generous Louise Harnby has made available for free download a set of her own customized stamps which can be imported into PDF editing software. These stamps are, as Louise explains, ‘based on the current BSI proofreading symbols and once downloaded can be imprinted onto the page, giving the proof the appearance of its paper cousin’. There are three files, for red, blue and black. …

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A day with Jane Goodall

We spent Saturday with Dr Jane Goodall. Afterwards Jane asked me to write an account of the day. So here it is. Jane Goodall is excited. “Have you heard?” she says, as we eat lunch in the restaurant at Compton Acres in Poole. “We’ve been shortlisted for an Oscar!” She is referring to the film about her life, Jane’s Journey, which had its first UK showing at Bournemouth University. The scientist, conservationist and UN International Messenger of Peace, Dr Jane Goodall, DBE, spends …

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Some notes on Christopher Priest’s The Islanders

Yesterday morning I received a signed copy of Christopher Priest’s latest book, The Islanders, direct from the author. This is Priest’s first book length fiction since the Arthur C. Clarke Award winning The Separation, and since the release of the film The Prestige, based on the author’s James Tait Black Memorial Prize winning novel of the same name. What follows is not a review but imply some observations. In the first 22 pages of The Islanders Christopher Priest uses the word ‘adjacent’ three times. …