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First Love: Inspiration

First-Love-KindlePapercut is a short story I wrote for the upcoming romantic fantasy anthology from Dragon Soul Press, entitled First Love. The story concerns a lonely teenage boy living with his ultra-strict Jehovah’s Witness mother. One night a mysterious girl made entirely of paper appears in his dreams, taking him on a mysterious and magical journey that I won’t spoil here.

So what inspired this story?

Oppressive religious backgrounds are a mainstay with me. I have explored them in a number of novels in various genres, including romantic drama (Love vs Honour), supernatural thriller/horror (The Thistlewood Curse), and most emphatically in sci-fi dystopian memoir Children of the Folded Valley, my most successful novel to date. With Papercut, I peer inside the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and some of their more extreme ideas (not celebrating birthdays and Christmas, for instance). Some of my own past also provides reference points, though I stress that I don’t hail from a Jehovah’s Witness background.

As for the fantastical dreamscapes that appear in the story, they have been inspired by everything from A-ha’s seminal video to their 1985 smash hit Take on Me, to one particularly iconic sequence in Jason and the Argonauts.

You can pre-order First Love on Amazon Kindle or buy paperbacks here (in the UK) and here (in the US).

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Download The Thistlewood Curse FREE – for five days only!

For just five days, you can download my new novel The Thistlewood Curse absolutely FREE from Amazon Kindle.

The Thistlewood Curse is a riveting supernatural thriller featuring a young detective and her lifelong friend, a paranormal investigator who specialises in astral projection. With a page-turning central mystery guaranteed to keep you guessing until the terrifying finale, don’t miss your chance to check it out absolutely FREE.

Here is the blurb from the back of the novel:

Can a ghost murder the living?

Lawrence Crane’s powers of astral projection are put to the ultimate test when he and his lifelong friend Detective Laura Buchan investigate a mysterious death on Lundy Island.

Sensing a dark power at work, they attempt to identify a human assassin under the control of supernatural evil.

But can they escape a terrifying, centuries-old curse?

Download your FREE copy of The Thistlewood Curse here.

 

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Download The Birds Began to Sing FREE – for five days only

For five days only The Birds Began to Sing is available to download FREE from Amazon Kindle.

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The Birds Began to Sing is a gripping, page-turning mystery novel. I drew inspiration from Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Susan Hill, the Bronte Sisters and Michael Crichton but I hope you will agree it is also singular and original in its own right.

Here is the blurb from the back of the novel:

When aspiring novelist Alice Darnell enters a competition to write the ending for an unfinished manuscript by late, world famous author Sasha Hawkins, it appears she might have her big break at last.

However, upon arrival at Sasha’s former home – the sinister Blackwood House – Alice is unsettled by peculiar competition rules, mysterious dreams and inexplicable ghostly visions. She begins to question her sanity as she is drawn into a terrifying web of deceit, revenge and murder.

Some review snippets:

“Mystery, drama, conspiracy theory, and some supernatural intrigue. A real page turner!” – Anonymous, Barnes and Noble.

“An excellent psychological thriller…” – Steve B, Amazon.

“Well written, poetic in places, funny at times and with a plot that will keep you turning the pages…” – Al Gibson, Amazon.

“Properly chilling…” – Alice R Brewer, Amazon.

“This was really a great read and I loved the twist. Did not expect it at all.” – Jennifer, Amazon.

The Birds Began to Sing can be downloaded FREE here. Print copies (not free, alas) can be ordered here.

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Download Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge FREE – for five days only!

My novel Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge is available to download FREE from Amazon Kindle for five days only. Simply click on the cover below.

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Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge is a gripping and scary tale involving spies, monsters, haunted houses, mad scientists and lots more besides, with action and thrills to spare. It was inspired by the nightmares of my youngest son, and the book is duly dedicated to him.

Here is the blurb from the back of Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge:

September 1987.

Curiosity lands Tim Rawling in a world of secrets, spies and a desperate race against time.

The haunted house, the monster and the mad scientist are only the beginning of a terrifying adventure.

Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge can be downloaded FREE here. If downloads aren’t your thing but you still fancy giving this book a go, print copies can be purchased here.

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Giant Arachnid Diversity Awareness Day

Today is Giant Arachnid Diversity Awareness Day (GADAD).

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All too often giant arachnids are stereotyped by Hollywood, but just because a spider is a gargantuan, venom-salivating, cannibalistic, vicious consumer of human beings doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad person. Sadly novels and films do not reflect this. When was the last time a giant spider appeared on our screens as anything other than a scary monster? When did you last see a nuanced giant spider character with hopes, fears, doubts, dreams, relationships, friends, family and a career of their own? Where are the giant spider comedies, tragedies and love stories? Are we as an inclusive society not better than this?

Just as the Bechdel test has been popularised as a means of determining strong female characterisation, I am now introducing the Dillon test, to see if a giant spider’s presence in a film provides a good representation of the species as a whole. Passing the Bechdel test requires two named female characters have to have a conversation about something other than a man. In the Dillon test, two giant spiders must have a conversation with one another about something other than eating the hero for breakfast.

Sadly barely any stories measure up to this standard, with only Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach leaping to mind (showing what enlightened people EB White and Roald Dahl were). Elsewhere entrenched stereotypes abound, with arachnophobia laced characters such as the spiders of Mirkwood in The Hobbit, or those in Eight Legged Freaks, The Thief of Baghdad, The Mist and The Incredible Shrinking Man also conforming to this trend. Yes, JK Rowling made an attempt at a slightly less offensively stereotyped giant spider character with Aragog in Harry Potter, but even Aragog is surrounded by a monstrous brood of one-dimensional nasties, and to be fair the spider is complicit with their brutal attack on Harry and Ron. Yet this is progressive stuff compared with Shelob in The Lord of the Rings, surely the most staggeringly offensive representation of a giant spider in the history of popular fiction.

Of course, as a footnote, let’s not forget that other arachnids are stereotyped or just poorly represented in movies and novels. Giant crabs barely get a look in (only Mysterious Island leaps to mind, which again lapses into lazy stereotype), and giant scorpions are treated no better than their spider counterparts in the likes of Honey, I shrunk the Kids or Clash of the Titans. Yes, I know scorpions are technically arthropods, but the point is they are badly portrayed, and we should all be deeply offended on their behalf.

Change starts with us. Let’s vote with our feet, boycott these outdated stereotypes and instead demand more diversity and balance in the depiction of giant spiders. In fact, l am going to start one of those petitions so that if it reaches 100,000 signatures the issue will be debated by MPs in the House of Commons. Please sign it and make a difference. Other action you can take now includes using slogans like “I am Shelob” or changing your Facebook profile picture to that of a giant spider.

Happy Giant Arachnid Diversity Awareness Day (GADAD).

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Christmas Present ideas: Uncle Flynn, Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge

Continuing my series on making potential Christmas presents of my novels, why not check out Uncle Flynn and/or Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge?

Uncle Flynn:

“Max Bradley didn’t like to climb trees.” – Uncle Flynn, opening line.

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Intended readership: Children and adults who enjoy a good adventure story.

Uncle Flynn, my debut novel, was received very positively. On the surface it is a properly old-fashioned treasure hunt adventure, but it contains underlying themes about overcoming fear and the dangers of mollycoddling. The book is dedicated to my eldest son, and was largely inspired by our many excursions over Dartmoor, as well as a bit of local history.

Here is the blurb from the back of Uncle Flynn:

When timid eleven year old Max Bradley embarks on a hunt for buried treasure on Dartmoor with his mysterious Uncle Flynn, he discovers he is braver than he thought.

Together they decipher clues, find a hidden map and explore secret tunnels in their search. But with both police and rival treasure hunters on their tail, Max begins to wonder if his uncle is all he seems…

Some review snippets for Uncle Flynn:

“Harking back to the wonderful adventure stories of Arthur Ransome, Uncle Flynn is a welcome return to the excitement of outdoor exploits in wild surroundings… Action-packed puzzle-solving pleasure for children and adults alike, with a neat twist in the tale to keep you guessing.”

Mrs Alice R Brewer, Amazon.co.uk

“Don’t pass this one by. I have been burning through the free NOOKbooks and this is the absolute BEST. Doesn’t matter what type of fiction you like to read, I can imagine this would capture just about anyone’s attention – and heart.”

willreadanything, Barnes and Noble.

“Could not put the book down, so enjoyed the journey. Recommended it to my 12 year old grandson who now wants me to be his book reading adviser. Loved by three generations.”

Brinney, Barnes and Noble.

Uncle Flynn can be downloaded here and print copies can be ordered here.

Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge:

“Being trapped inside a haunted house was turning out to be every bit as terrifying as Tim had feared.” – Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge, opening line.

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Intended Readership: Children and adults who enjoy books like the Alex Rider series.

Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge is a gripping and scary tale involving spies, monsters, haunted houses, mad scientists and lots more besides, with action and thrills to spare. It was actually inspired by the nightmares of my youngest son, and the book is duly dedicated to him.

Here is the blurb from the back of Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge:

September 1987.

Curiosity lands Tim Rawling in a world of secrets, spies and a desperate race against time.

The haunted house, the monster and the mad scientist are only the beginning of a terrifying adventure.

This novel is easily the most neglected of my released books, which is, I think a crying shame as those that have read it have loved it. Anyone who has rated it online has given five stars, though there are hardly any reviews to quote. Why not buck the trend and give it a go?

Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge can be downloaded here and print copies can be ordered here.

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Christmas Present ideas: Love vs Honour

Next in my series of potential Christmas present ideas from my back catalogue is a novel I published earlier this year, Love vs Honour.

“There is no happy ending, in this tale I will now tell…” – Love vs Honour, opening line.

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Intended readership: Teenagers around 13 plus, and adults.

I wrote Love vs Honour almost ten years ago and sat on it for some time, as it lay outside my usual genre fiction writing. Certainly young adult romantic drama isn’t something I specialise in, yet the story felt so strong in my mind, I had no choice but to ultimately release the novel.

It begins as a boy meets girl story, with a potentially controversial religious twist. It then evolves into a drama of deception, with many twists, turns and ironies, before a much darker finale which has taken some readers by surprise. I must emphasise again that this novel is as much for grown-ups as teenagers, as the subject matter is not just romantic but embraces a number of complex and thought-provoking themes and ideas. I cannot say too much more for fear of spoilers.

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

Two Religions. Two Deceptions. One Love.

When Johnny meets and falls in love with Sabina, their bond proves stronger than a teenage holiday fling.

Fearing the disapproval of their strict Christian and Islamic families, they undertake an elaborate deception to continue seeing one another. Johnny pretends to convert to Islam whilst Sabina pretends to covert to Christianity to appease their parents.

But how long can this deception last before it unravels?

Here are a couple of review snippets:

“You may find, as I did, it becomes a hard book to put down. The premise of a Christian and a Muslim pretending to convert to each other’s religion to be with each other for the sake of pure, unadulterated love creates a strangely addictive narrative.” – Graeme Stevenson, Amazon.

“This book is one of the few that made me cry. I love it. If you are a fan of emotional books then I urge you to read it. I give it 5 stars.” – Splufic, Goodreads.

You can download Love vs Honour here.

Print copies can be ordered from Create Space here.

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Sentimental Simon Part 1

Do you ever cry at books or films?

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My answer is unashamedly yes. I very often get emotionally drawn into a story to the point that I can be moved to tears. Far from being embarrassed by this, I think it is healthy and cathartic.

Here then is part one of a two part confession, wherein I list books or films that provoked blubbing. This part concerns films.

Here, in no particular order, are ten films (there are more) to have provoked tears. Some are perennial tearjerkers, but you may be surprised by some of the less obvious examples. In fact, let’s start with a film from last year I recently re-watched, provoking a certain amount of eye-moistening.

The Babadook – The best horror film of the decade to date is also one of the most moving. At its core, The Babadook is a grueling, painful but extremely cathartic examination of guilt and grief. In addition to being terrified, I could not stop crying for much of the running time because if felt so raw and painful, thanks to the amazing performances.

The Iron Giant – Boy meets amnesiac giant robot in McCarthy era Maine. A criminally underrated gem that for once doesn’t invite children to cheer at violence. The surprisingly powerful and moving finale always provokes a certain amount of lower lip wobblage. (“I stay, you go. No following…”).

Cinema Paradiso – An acquaintance of mine once watched this film and said to me afterwards “Now I think I understand you”. To really give the tear ducts a proper work-out, make sure you watch the extended version. For hopeless romantics, the extra footage contains almost as much heart-wrench as the spectacularly moving final scene.

Grave of the Fireflies – This animated account of two children trying to survive towards the end of the Second World War in Japan is enough to make a paving slab weep. One of the most devastating, fiercely uncompromising, resolutely apolitical depictions of the appalling effects of war on innocent children ever put on film. Difficult to recover from, impossible to forget. Let’s just say that by the end I was a blubbering, speechless wreck.

Life is Beautiful – This film has a special place in my heart because when I saw it at the cinema with my wife to be, we were both equally captivated. Although some thought the film’s Holocaust comedy premise to be in poor taste (mistakenly in my view), we both found it almost unbearably moving.

Departures – There are many moments of dark comedy in this Japanese funeral drama to bring counterpoint and ensure things don’t get depressing. However, the final scene has to be one of the most powerfully cathartic and profoundly emotional I have ever seen. The expression “floods of tears” seems pathetically inadequate.

The Tree of Life – I adore this love-it-or-hate-it film for many, many deeply personal reasons. Essentially a cinematically spellbinding riff on the book of Job, it deals with the thorny question of suffering with, according to your point of view, irritating pretentiousness, or immense profundity. I take the latter view, and have to confess that the “heaven” scene near the end on the beach makes me break down every time I watch it.

Inside Out – The most recent addition to this list is a film I saw twice last summer and cried on both occasions in at least two scenes. Anyone who can make a film this good featuring a ridiculous character called Bing-bong made of candyfloss that is part elephant, part cat, part dolphin and cries sweets is already a genius. Anyone who can use a character like that to provoke absolute floods in the audience is practically a cinematic god. And that’s before I even mention the weapons grade tear-jerking finale.

Schindler’s List – Another obvious choice. I remember crying throughout the last half hour when I saw it at the cinema. By the end, the entire audience sat in stunned silence throughout the credits and after they had finished, when the lights came up, I turned and saw the entire audience had remained seated (despite the three hour fifteen minute running time), their faces stained with tears. I will never, ever forget that experience.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial – This list would be incomplete without ET, simply because one particular scene makes me cry every time, without fail, every time I see it. The sequence in question, when the NASA scientists try to resuscitate ET and Elliot and Gertie sob hysterically, features some of the most extraordinary child acting I have ever seen, which combined with Spielberg’s astonishing direction and John Williams’ career-best music score, prove absolutely impossible to resist. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is nothing less than the cinematic equivalent of weepie hypnotism.

See, now I’ve left out It’s a Wonderful Life. How could I have missed that off the list so close to Christmas?

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Film Review – Bridge of Spies

Bridge-of-Spies-8Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies has what might be termed an excess of class. He directs a frankly dangerously talented cast, with astonishing performances not just from Tom Hanks but especially Mark Rylance, as well as fine support from Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons and Sebastian Koch (from The Lives of Others). Then you’ve got a fact-based screenplay by Matt Charman polished by the Coen Brothers, plus Spielberg’s usual fantastic heads of department, including cinematographer Janusz Kaminiski and editor Michael Kahn. Only composer John Williams is absent, for the first time since The Color Purple, with Thomas Newman ably replacing him on scoring duties.

Set at the height of the Cold War in the late 1950s/early 1960s, the film concerns insurance lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) who is recruited to defend captured Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance). His rigorous defence of Abel leads to controversy, hostility and even violent attacks on his family in an era where nuclear attack from the Russians was a very real fear. Subsequently, when a US U2 spy plane pilot is shot down and captured, the Soviets reach out to the US, hoping to unofficially arrange an exchange in East Berlin, with Donovan negotiating the deal.

One has come to expect brilliance from Spielberg, and whilst his direction here is perhaps less flamboyant than usual, the subtle approach suits the subject matter. Even though much of the film is people talking in rooms, waiting near phones, or walking amid icy Berlin streets, the drama remains gripping throughout.

From a historical perspective, Bridge of Spies offers an important reminder of a fascinating and frightening episode in recent history. The film also has an admirably fierce morality – not a patriotic, flag-waving morality, but a quiet, seasoned, intelligent, almost naïve decency that is all but irresistible. It dares to suggest that yes, although war is hell (even when it’s a cold one), certain standards must apply in the treatment of enemy spies, regardless of how much one might disagree with their ideology.

Bridge of Spies won’t be for everyone. Those expecting Bourne or Bond might find it too slow and cerebral (it really isn’t a thriller), and indeed it has apparently underperformed at the box office. But I found it an immensely satisfying piece of work, and yet another fine addition to Spielberg’s embarrassment of riches CV. I fully expect Oscar nominations to follow.

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Christmas Present ideas: George Hughes Trilogy

Christmas is approaching, and if you are struggling for present ideas, I am going to put the case for each my novels over the next few days. They are available both as downloads via Kindle, or, much better in my opinion, printed books made from dead tree with pages you can physically turn.

I shall begin with my recently completed George Hughes trilogy, consisting, in reading order, of George goes to Mars, George goes to Titan and George goes to Neptune.

Intended readership: Children aged around 10 plus and adults who enjoy books like the Alex Rider or Harry Potter series.

The George Hughes trilogy is a thrilling, action-packed space tale set just over a hundred years in the future. Each story is a stand-alone adventure, but I recommend reading the novels in order nonetheless.

Also, I must emphasise, these books are not just for children. Amid the excitement, humour and thrills, I touch on everything from murderous religious fundamentalism to sexual equality, civil rights, slavery as well as more metaphysical elements.

Here is the blurb from the back of George goes to Mars:

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When George Hughes discovers he has inherited the planet Mars, he goes from poverty to becoming the richest boy on Earth overnight.

Accompanied by his new guardian, a mysterious secret agent and a crew of astronauts, George voyages to Mars to sell land to celebrities wanting to build interplanetary holiday homes. But sabotage, assassination attempts and the possibility of an alien threat plunge him into a deadly adventure…

Here is the blurb from the back of George goes to Titan:

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The thrilling sequel to George goes to Mars…

A year on from his adventures on Mars, George Hughes faces an even deadlier peril as he travels to Titan on an urgent rescue mission. The mysterious Giles returns to help him, but assassins are once again on his tail, and a new, far greater alien menace lurks in the shadows waiting to strike.

Here is the blurb from the back of George goes to Neptune:

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In this spectacular sequel to George goes to Mars and George goes to Titan, George Hughes faces his most dangerous adventure yet.

Following the Titanian invasion, a deadly and very personal threat forces George to undertake a voyage to a top secret Martian research base on Neptune.

On this remote outpost, he uncovers a diabolical plot. But George is too late to prevent the catastrophe.

A catastrophe that will change his life forever…

Here are a couple of reviews from adults:

“A thoroughly enjoyable read” – Mark, Amazon.

“Reading like a cross between one of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulpy Mars adventures and a Robert Heinlein ‘juvenile’, this improbable yarn (just how many “saved in the nick of time” coincidences can one novel contain?) about a rags-to-riches-to-hero boy named George was nonetheless page-turningly entertaining. Perfect rainy day/sick day reading.” – Elizabeth Olson, Goodreads.

And here some thoughts from the target audience (at least I assume so, given the tone of their reviews):

“This was totally amazing! Involves space ships, aliens and more! A totally exciting adventure you’ll love!” – Anonymous, Barnes and Noble.

“Pure awesomeness! Packed with suspense and adventure, as well as LOTS of action!” – Anonymous, Barnes and Noble.

“Best book ever!” – Anonymous, Barnes and Noble.

You can order downloads for the respective novels, here, here, and here, as well as print copies from Lulu of the first two here and here, and of the third instalment from Amazon Create Space here.

“Today, the human race will land on Mars.” – George goes to Mars, opening line.