Red Country, A Review…of Sorts

Here’s one of my reviews that aren’t quite reviews. This is the final in the trilogy that started with “Best Served Cold” then followed with “The Heroes” and now, “Red Country.”

Then again, all of these books ‘could’ be read alone, as there isn’t any story arc which binds them, other then them all being in the same universe and time/place. A couple of characters are seen in all three, but again, it won’t make things unreadable if you hadn’t read the others.

Having said that, I absolutely loved this book. I think it was the best of the three. I love Shy and Lamb and why they had to do things. I think their story, getting back their stolen children, was a powerful one, and made them do things they wouldn’t have otherwise dreamed of.

Shy is a beautifully drawn character and she developed the most. Lamb is a mystery, and I won’t spoil it by saying who he is (if you’ve read Abercrombie’s book before, you’ll know). That’s all I’m saying.

I also think this book finished things off nicely, but left the author with more to do if he so wished. Let’s hope he does keep the stories flowing in this universe. I have his new series to read next (well, the first two that have been released) and I can’t wait to get into them after a couple of other reads to complete.

The Heroes

Here I come to “The Heroes” the second book in the second grimdark trilogy of the “First Law” universe, by the consummate master of the genre, Joe Abercrombie! Gosh, I do love his books. They are dark and bloody and sometimes just what’s needed as they reveal truths about humanity. Truths many other authors may not wish to delve into, and especially not in fantasy.

This book is raw bone, biting wind, driving snow kind of stuff. Perfect!

The characters in this book are neither good nor bad. Neither evil or angelic. They are human, innards and blood and attitude and failings, and all. They do thing for their own purpose. They do things for self reward. They do things for love. For hate. And yes, out of all of it, in this book there are no real winners! After all, who really wins a war?

There’s always a cost. A price to pay; even for the so-called victors.

So, in my reviews that aren’t really reviews, as I don’t give scores, or really even talk about plot, just my own nebulous thoughts, yes, I enjoyed this one. I had a sense it was perhaps about 100 pages bloated, but hey, those pages were still soaked in the blood of the vain and and the guilty alike, so who am I to complain?

For grimdark, look no further.

I’m onto the next book, and final in the trilogy “Red Country” right now.

The Time of Innocence

Ah, that time when the words are fresh! When the story, full of wonder has been done, and there’s nothing but excitement for what’s to come. The first draft is complete, all the words planted down over the weeks, months, even years, to hopefully grow into beautiful, lovely flowers of prose that everyone will adore! This is the time when the author is full of innocence about what’s been created. Like a new born. Skin soft. That baby smell. Of gentle ooh and ahhs, and complete and utter love.

Enjoy that moment.

Because once the first draft is done, the innocence revelled in, then that’s when it all comes crashing down. That’s when the author, having basked in the glory of creating, pushing out their baby, falling in love, begins to see the reality of it all.

That’s when the editing process begins…

And if writing the first draft is innocence, the first day of school, full of hope and wonder of new things, then the subsequent drafts/editing that comes next is the gang of bullies you used to hide from behind the sports shed at school. The reality. They are brutal too. Because the words you thought, innocently, were flowers waiting to bloom, were in fact, the manure spread over infertile soil.

But…

From that manure, beautiful things can and do grow. Have the innocence, enjoy the wonder. That’s what writing is about. But also expect the gang of bullies. The ones who will help you kill your darlings, so to speak. Enjoy them too. They are there to help you, after all.

Because writing is such a positive and negative process, it hurts and heals. But from all of the chaos, you must do one thing. Forgive yourself. Forgive your first draft. Forgive your second and third ones too. Forgive all you have done, because yes, from it all you have written a story. And it is your story. One that grew from innocence to become the wonder it will be after everything else has been fought for and against.

And if you don’t succeed, forgive yourself for that too.

There’s always the next story!

Write on…

A Story to Tell

Pictures are worth a thousand words they say. And it’s true. Nothing inspires me more than seeing good photos when it comes to my writing; and I usually create a lot more than a thousand words from pictures, let me tell you. I’m a very visual person.

In my latest book, my fantasy epic (now 3/4 of the way through book 2), I have travelling jongleurs as two characters who come into the story to enhance the plot: jongleurs being travelling musicians who do tricks and other things to entertain the common folk in villages etc.

This photo what what inspired me to write Horan and Joran (brothers), my travelling jongleurs.

This is a 1902 original Hearst wagon, and what a story it could tell.

And it did.

In my story I have it pulled by a mighty piebald Clydesdale stallion! And the two jongleurs, brothers, are mysterious and have a very interesting story to tell, secrets too! What’s more delicious than a good secret in a story, hey?

Gosh I love this stuff! Happy writing Everyone!

Best Served Cold Review

“Mercy is the same as cowardice”

And that, as a theme throughout the book, speaks of what to expect in Joe Abercrombie’s first story in the epic fantasy trilogy beginning with “Best Served Cold” where we have a lady lead character, Monza, seeking revenge for the death of her brother, Benna.

And no, all is not what it seems. This book is rich in character, rich in the grimdark fantasy Abercrombie is famous for, richer for all the blood and fighting scenes. Loved it. I have to say, Joe Abercrombie’s writing is becomming some of my favourite. So darkly vivid and immersive. His works are almost a ‘go to’ if I need something solid to read that I know I’ll enjoy no matter what.

Having said that, I still think the first trilogy (The Blade Itself) in this fantasy world he’d created was slightly better. Logan Nine-fingers will always be one of my favourite all-time characters.

In this book, I much preferred ‘Shivers’ than the lead character; he was darker and had a better depth to him as he was trying to be a better man, whereas Monza was simply seeking revenge against those who wronged her/her brother.

Unfortunately, the one sex scene we did get between Shivers and Monza – well…it was clearly written by a man who was trying to write such a scene from a female perspective and didn’t quite get there in a satisfying way. It was good, don’t get me wrong. But not up to the rest of the standard of the writing, I felt. Yes, folks, contrary to what you may think, sex scenes are very important in (adult) books because they can add to character perfectly. The one Joe wrote did that, as it set up things to follow nicely (no spoilers). Just fell flat a bit for me.

And at least he didn’t write ‘her silk purse held his pork sword nicely within its cavernous depths’ or equally cringe-y things like that. At least the sex he wrote was raw and gritty, just lacked some emotion. After all, after some 600 pages these two finally got it on, you’d have thought there would have at lease been a smile.

I will certainly be reading the next in this trilogy “The Heroes” because we return to the north and more grim-darkness. How delicious!

The Review Response

As a writer, I believe – in these modern times especially – there is a certain responsibility I must be wary of. Nay, have it become a part of my thinking. That is to do better when it comes to my writing. To be better. Not only for myself but for my readers as well.

But at the same time, I’m not just including myself here, I’m including all writers. And as such, the topic of today’s discussion is responding to those dreaded reviews. Dun, dun, dun!

As an author, one thing must become abundantly clear. Once you publish a story/book it is out of your hands and in the public domain. You are responsible for what you have written, but you are not responsible for other people’s opinions. But, and here’s the kicker, YOU are also responsible as to how you react to reviews.

The golden rule is DON’T.

DON’T.

DON’T.

Don’t ever respond to a review unless you have been invited to do so (by the reviewer). An example of that would be: “Hey, I really liked this book, will there be a sequel (author’s name)?” On every other occasion don’t respond to any review, 5 star, 3 star, or 1 star. EVER! Don’t even ‘like’ a review. It shows how insecure you are. Trust me. It does.

And especially DON’T go on social media to complain about readers who gave you a low rating. That’s just a no no. A big bloody NO NO! You will be automatically placed on a ‘do not read’ list in places like Goodreads. And for an indie author (if that’s who you are) that can hurt sales big time! And I’ve been an indie author, and sales are hard enough to come by as it is. Shooting yourself in the foot will make it worst. Again, trust me on that.

There are so many instances of this sort of thing happening where authors respond to reviews, but I want to draw attention to one author (with 20K + followers on Twitter) who decided it was a good idea to bitch about a 3 star review she got for book 1 or her series of 3. She rallied her followers to basically bash this reader/reviewer for not ‘reading the other two books to get what she wrote’. I mean, seriously? And it was a 3 star review (which according to Goodreads, translates as ‘I liked it’) Imagine if this author got a 1 or 2 star review. Yikes!

First, the privilege shown in those tweets was unbelievable (remember when I spoke about doing better, being better?). She cried victim and blamed the reader THE READER for not ‘getting’ her work. Suffice it to say, this author was called out for what this all was and has now taken a break (gone on hiatus). Yeah. You got caught, and now you have to try and dig your way out of the hole you created. This was really an appalling example of an author behaving badly towards their readers. They are on my ‘do not read’ list too.

Listen, please. Not everyone is going to get your work. But many people will. Take the good with the bad. Learn from reviews if they give good advice. If not. Don’t worry about them. Through the years I’ve had some reviews that have been terrible and some that have made me cry with how wonderful they are. It’s all part of being a writer. And if you don’t want people to review your work (as is their right) then don’t publish. Keep those stories on your hard-drive. Or better yet, just go on LuLu and publish a POD copy for yourself and a few friends. That way you have a story out there but not to the public.

The other thing to remember here is reviews are for the readers, not for the authors. An example of this is to search up your favourite author on Goodreads (or similar site) and see the reviews they got for one of your favourite books of theirs. There’s a mix, isn’t there? Some 1 star and terrible, others glowing. It’s all part of being a writer, getting reviews. But it’s the end process. The part you have no control over.

So just write those stores. Improve your craft and move on to the next one. I don’t even read reviews of my work any longer. Sure, sometimes a friend may point a good one out, but other than that, I don’t. Remember, tweets or posts, even deleted, are remembered by those you’ve offended.

So if you bag reviewers you will be remembered as well…and not in a good way.

King of Thorns

I enjoyed the second book of the Broken Empire trilogy, “King of Thorns” a lot. As far as middle books go, anyway. The final book, “Emperor of Thorns” is next up on my reading list. I’m also really enjoying anti-hero Jorg and his journey as he struggles for power and to reclaim himself, his title, after he lost his mother and brother and his father disowned him. It all sounds noble doesn’t it? Trust me, Jorg is a cheat, a liar, and will do anything, including kill thousands upon thousands, to reach his goal: emperor of the world. This is grimdark fantasy. There is blood on almost every page. Can’t wait to read the last book in the series.

Now. Here’s a map. Look familiar? It’s what Europe and surrounds will look like years after a nuclear winter, and the seas have risen and fallen. Unfortunately, it looks like the UK is worse for wear after such times.

And of course, after that, I’ve got to post some art work (as is usual with my reviews that aren’t reviews) Here is the cover for the book for those folks in Georgia (the country against the Black Sea, not the US state). Love it!

Music?

When you create, be that writing, painting, crafting, scrapbooking, crocheting, or whatever, do you listen to music?

I do. I like to mainly listen to instrumental stuff, but sometimes not. I think, for me, music blocks out other distractions. But that’s me. How about you?

The Benefit of Readers

A reader is a valuable thing. And I just don’t mean the reader of the end product, the book on ‘the shelf’ (virtual or otherwise). I’m talking about the readers we have before publication.

There are many type of readers, so let me explain.

Alpha Reader: This is the person who gets to read your work from the very beginning, sometimes chapter by chapter as you pen them. They are the encouragement. The ones who will guide and gently suggest anything obvious that could cause problems later on. I have a fantastic alpha reader who I send each chapter I do as I finish it. Some of the things they have pointed out has been invaluable and saved me a lot of heartache later on.

Beta Reader: This is the person (or many people) who get to read your completed tome in its entirety before any editor or other professional sees the work (and there can be many of those). The beta reader is often asked what to look for in a work, as we all know our weaknesses in our own work. For example: “Can you let me know where I ramble?” or “Are the characters grabbing you?” Things like that. But of course things can go into much more detail. Some beta readers like to correct grammar/punctuation, while others will do a line by line edit. I’ve had a beta sent me extensive notes, all welcome of course. But generally beta readers look for global things that can bog down a story. Whatever beta reader/s you have, they are all valuable. But remember, they are offering their opinion. You are within your rights to agree or not. That’s how it works.

Critique Partner: I think of these people as both alpha and beta readers and can be engaged at any time of the writing process. I’ve done chapter swaps with plenty of writers as we progress through our respective works. I’ve done complete story swaps too. Although, usually alpha and beta readers are not writers, they are purely great readers. With a critique partner they are usually a fellow writer who will offer a different insight to what a reader can. Sometimes a reader can’t pin-point what is wrong with a story but knows there’s something wrong. A critique partner may be able to do this because of their perspective and closeness to the writing process. Eg: the plot is choppy, the character arc isn’t complete, or there is too much detail/not enough etc etc which isn’t letting the reader immerse into the story.

Anyway, I use all three in my writings. I also send my work to a trusted friend who is an editor as well. As such, my writing has improved so much I don’t recognise my earlier works any more. A good feeling.

The Write Balance

Balance is a good thing. It’s not easy to achieve, in fact it’s one of the most difficult things to do in this day and age. If one is a writer, then obtaining some sort of work/life/writing balance can be very difficult.

As things return to some sort of normality here (one hopes) finding balance is even more difficult. But the most difficult thing of all has been self care and how to balance it. I haven’t been very good at that lately. As a result, I’ve suffered. Being isolated and unable to contact the people I usually spend time with has been the greatest loss I’ve experienced in my life.

I have also felt the worst I’ve felt in my life and my physical health has been suffering as a result. I’m turning the corner to improving the situation, but it’s going to be a long road. I’m on medication now too (which my body is still trying to get used to).

But without my writing I think I would have been in a worse situation than I am in now. My writing gives me something to get up for each morning. That in itself is worth everything. So, as restrictions ease, let’s hope I can keep positive and move forward. Let’s hope things for me get back to what they were soon. I know things will be different. But not being isolated will mean I can achieve a better balance. That’s the hope.