Monthly Archives:: June 2016

Mystery review: ‘The Mercer’s House’ by Antonia Frost

June 30, 2016 Review 0

I’m a huge fan of the Angela Marchmont series of 1920s murder mysteries, written by Clara Benson, so this new series, written under the pen name Antonia Frost, was a must-read for me. I wasn’t disappointed. This is a tautly-plotted, compelling mystery, beautifully written and absorbing from start to finish.

Here’s the premise: Zanna has been through some troubled times, but as she recovers from depression, she decides to fulfil a promise to her late father and try to track down her Aunt Helen. Her search takes her to the windswept and atmospheric Northumberland coast, and the supposedly haunted Mercer’s House, where she meets her aunt’s new family and finds an even bigger mystery: Helen and her son vanished without trace twenty-five years ago. Zanna sets about uncovering the secrets of the Mercer’s House, but finds herself swept up in a number of frightening experiences.

This is a nicely constructed modern Gothic mystery, with all the difficulties of knowing who to trust, and whether all the odd things that happen are the result of the haunted house, someone covering their tracks or perhaps Zanna losing her mind. Zanna is a very realistic main character, a very believable mixture of assertiveness and timidity from her recent personal dramas. If I have a quibble at all, it’s that I would have liked her to be a little more assertive towards the end, especially when she begins to realise what has been going on. A little bit of feistiness would have lifted the ending, I feel. But that’s a purely personal preference, and I have to admit that Zanna as written is incredibly true to life, and all her actions were perfectly consistent with her experiences and her nature. So possibly the author knows more about human nature than I do.

At the end, all the various threads of the story were neatly tied up. The romance was gentle and again, very realistic, given the circumstances, proceeding in fits and starts, but eventually reaching a satisfactory conclusion. It’s in the nature of a story like this that the heroine’s feelings for the love interest veer about from liking to mistrust to fear and back again, as events unfold, and I confess my own opinions of him switched about with every zig-zag of the plot. So kudos to the author for getting that absolutely right. This is a great start to the series. A very good four stars.

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Authors Answer 15: Has your writing been influenced by new media?

June 25, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

This is a long question, so here it is in full: All of us write prose fiction (unless I’m mistaken) in an era that has an astounding variety of storytelling media. Has your writing been significantly influenced by any works of newer media?

I think most authors writing today are heavily influenced by one particular form of media, and that is movies (and its baby brother, TV). Perhaps the advent of photography before that had some influence, in that ordinary people could record themselves, their surroundings and their lives, or send postcards to each other, so that authors no longer had to spend quite so much time describing the scenery. But movies and TV have  pushed authors into a more visual mode of writing, a snappier, scene-driven creation process. In even more recent times, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and video games with their set-piece battles and ever-more-challenging opponents have had an influence on many writers.

For myself, to be honest, I don’t think any modern media has really influenced my writing that much. I tend to visualise everything as I write, but I don’t particularly think in movie terms, I don’t do RPG and I don’t read manga. Nor do I write the sort of tightly-choreographed fight scenes that derive from modern media. If anything has influenced my writing, it’s the books I’ve read over the years. So I guess the short answer is — no.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

 

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Mary Kingswood Regency romance news

June 21, 2016 Regency romances 2

As you may know, I’ve recently begun a new writing venture, breaking away from fantasy for a while to write a series of Regency romances, of traditional style. Like Jane Austen’s works, they focus on the serious business of young ladies looking for husbands and the difficulties they encounter along the way. I can’t copy Austen’s elegant writing or her wit, but I have tried to impart a flavour of the Regency era and the mannered lives of its upper-class residents, while injecting some humour. And like the originals, the story ends with a proposal and acceptance, nothing more, although I have taken the liberty of sealing the happy ever after with a kiss.

The series is called The Daughters of Allamont Hall written under the pen name Mary Kingswood and there will be six books in all, each focusing on a different daughter and her search for the perfect husband. There will also be some amusing and (I hope) interesting characters running through the whole series.

Book 1: Amy will be released on 15th July 2016, with Book 2: Belle on 12th August, Book 3: Connie on 9th September. The remaining stories, Book 4: Dulcie, Book 5: Grace and Book 6: Hope will follow not far behind. The first three are available for pre-order from Amazon now — click the covers below to go to your local Amazon to order.  If you’d like more information, or to sign up for the Mary Kingswood newsletter, hop over to the Mary Kingswood website.

Belle ecover

Here’s the blurb for Book 1: Amy:

Mr William Allamont rules the lives of his six unmarried daughters with strict regularity. Every hour has its appointed task, every day its routine, lest the girls fall into idleness and frivolity. When he dies unexpectedly, his will includes generous dowries for the sisters, but only on condition that they marry in the proper order, the eldest first.

Amy must now find herself a husband, and soon, so that her younger sisters may also have their chance of marriage. There are several possible suitors, but will any of them come up to scratch? And how can Amy choose for herself, when she has always been guided by her father’s strict rules? Will she be able to manage without him to direct her?

Mr Ambleside has been waiting for Amy for years, his suit rejected by her father. Now he has his opportunity, and he’s determined to win her. But first he has to see off his rivals, and if he manages that, he has to overcome her reluctance to defy her father’s wishes. But he’s a very tenacious man…

And now back to fantasy, and the editing for the final part of the Fire Mages Trilogy – The Second God, which will (hopefully) be released on 23rd September 2016. If you enjoyed The Fire Mages and The Fire Mages’ Daughter, you won’t want to miss this dramatic conclusion to the story of Drina, Arran and Ly.

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Authors Answer 14: When coming up with a new story, what comes first, the character or the plot?

June 9, 2016 AuthorsAnswer, The Fire Mages' Daughter, The Plains of Kallanash 0

The character, always. Most of my books have started in a very simple way, with a character in a situation. Then I start looking around for more details of the setting, more characters, the background to the situation. Then, and only then, do I let the characters loose and see what sort of plot develops.

I always think it must be tidier to start with the plot, to know that event A is succeeded by event B and so on, right down to the grand finale of event Z, and then construct characters that will show that plot off to best advantage. Such a system leads to properly rounded character arcs, and neat resolutions, and pivotal moments that occur at precisely 37.5% of the way through. Properly structured stories must be built this way, I assume. It’s just not the way I work.

For example, The Plains of Kallanash was an accident. I was in the middle of writing something else, but then I had an idea: what would life be like if a marriage consisted of four people, and not just two? Perhaps it would just be two couples, but what if there was one active couple, the senior husband and wife, who slept together and had children, while the junior couple were just there as moral support, and to step into the breach if one of the seniors dies.

All of a sudden, Mia was there, fully formed – quiet, timid Mia, content to do whatever is needed, but secretly yearning to attract the attention of the senior husband. Jonnor appeared next, the handsome one, who treated Mia like a child, when he wasn’t ignoring her. And by contrast, Hurst, in love with Mia, and beautiful, lively Tella, the catalyst for everything that followed. So there were my characters and their situation, but what was the plot? I sat down to write, but I had absolutely no idea where the story was taking me. And yet somehow it developed and grew and took me to the most unexpected places, and, in its rambling way, came to an end. Does it work? I’m still not sure. But I liked the way it got written, and it’s a way that’s worked for several books now.

There’s only been one exception so far. My second book, The Fire Mages, came to an end with the birth of a baby, a daughter whose whole gestation period was bathed in very powerful magic. That was a situation that intrigued me. How would that affect an unborn baby? How would she be different from other children, and would that be a good or bad thing? So in that case, I had a character with a very specific situation, but there was no obvious plot. I needed a story that would put those differences under the spotlight and challenge her. So I turned to Libbie Hawker’s book Take Your Pants Off!, which demonstrates a very gentle character-based form of plotting for pantsers, and that got me out of trouble and started the story rolling. The result was The Fire Mages’ Daughter.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

 

 

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Romance review: ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon

June 7, 2016 Review 0

Where to start? This is one of those books that half the world has read (or seen on TV) and everyone has heard of and has an opinion on. The basic premise is the traditional one for any portal story – a modern-era character who steps into the past and has to survive/adjust/get home. Nothing original there. The twist here is that the story starts in 1945, with Claire Randall on a second honeymoon with her husband in Scotland, the idea being to get reacquainted after wartime separation. As with any portal story, this part is way, way too long (actually, the whole book would be improved by being cut in half, but no matter). I didn’t develop any connection with husband Frank, so I didn’t much care when Claire left him behind, and her desire to get back to him never quite rang true.

The Scotland of 1743, where Claire ends up, is far more interesting, and much of the historic detail seemed quite authentic to me. The characters – not so much. All these braw Scots warriors, honed in clan wars and battles with the English, treated Claire with astonishing gentleness, as if she were an honoured guest instead of a woman found (apparently) screwing an English soldier. In the real world, I suspect she’d have been raped and/or killed pretty smartly. But no, they take her back to their castle where, even though they believe she’s a spy, they put her in charge of doctoring the residents. Now that’s just asking for a mass poisoning. And she sets about being all perky modern woman, instead of keeping her stupid head down.

And then there’s the hot young Scotsman, Jamie. Again, he’s terribly gentlemanly and, even though all the maidens have the hots for him, he’s still a virgin. Hahahaha! Yeah, right. But lucky Claire is forced to marry him, because reasons. And then the sex breaks out and the book goes to hell in a handcart. Now, I have no problem with sex in books, even quite large quantities of it, as here – frankly, they go at it like rabbits, and never mind about poor old left-behind-in-the-future Frank. That’s OK. A bit less rutting and a bit more plot wouldn’t have gone amiss, but it’s not really a problem. Well, OK, a lot less rutting. It did get repetitive after a while.

No, what I really disliked was the amount of violence and gory stuff in the book. Every chapter, it seemed, had another skirmish, and another graphically-described wound for Claire to stitch up with her twentieth century skills (how lucky that she was a nurse!). And by the time I got to the halfway point, and the sex and violence were getting a bit mixed up together, things got too murky for my taste. I know from reviews and a bit of skimming that all of that gets worse, so I gave up on it at that point. Nicely written, and the history seems accurate, as far as I can tell, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. One star for a DNF.

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