Saturday 31 October 2015

Has Reading Become a Chore? Any suggestions?

I have found at times reading is a chore, which is a great shame. There's a lot of books (some that turn out to be good) where I read a couple of pages then put it down. I have some historical fiction books that I've read recently and overall they are good but they don't have that wow factor.

I want books that keep me up all night and I want to read the next chapter. Only a few authors achieve that. I recently read some less well known authors Karen Azinger and Michael Sullivan and theirs were very easy to read books with a nice flow (in my view). There are on the cusp of not-put-downable (which I am finding rare), but they are better than most.

I also like Bernard Cornwell and his books are certainly un-put-downable. Not always guaranteed but nearly always. Simmon Scarrow's books are the same. Tolkien certainly hit a high note and I always liked David Gemmell's Legend.

I am struggling though to find authors that hit that un-put-downable standard. Any views?

Why do Swords Feature so Strongly in fantasy Books?

They are eye catching I suppose. Most novels are set in a medieval type setting so weapons are numerous and even then swords featured strongly, but not exclusively. So what about the other weapons?

I am a Saxon re-enactor and have used a sword, single handed spear (6 foot), double handed spear (9 foot), scramseax (long knife) and an axe. Many of you are correct that swords are a status symbol and a sign of wealth. In terms of using weapons, I found the axe clumsy and the head too small. With a sword you could get away with moire mistakes. The sword has a cross guard and that and its length protect the hand. I have broken fingers fighting with the seax as I occasionally blocked with my hand rather than the blade. Ideally I liked a short spear to start a fight as that had longer reach, but when a fight became messy I dropped the spear (if possible) and ended up with the sword.

Perhaps we need to see heroes with other weapons a bit more often. The Silmarillion certainly had at least one hero with a bow. Any thoughts?

Friday 30 October 2015

What Music Inspires you When Either Reading or Writing a Book?

I like listening to music when reading or writing, but finding appropriate mood music for fantasy is difficult. Music really helps to set the scene and can really deepen the impact of a tale. If you haven't tried it, give it a go.

Here are a few of my favourite albums and which books I enjoyed reading to them. I set the music low and usually wear headphones to cut out the background noise.

1. Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and the Silmarillion, Mike Oldfield's Hergest Ridge or Ommadawn
2. Stephen Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane and other books - Mike Oldfield's Incantations
3. Enjya - good for most fantasy books.

When I listen to the above tracks years later I still revive the mood that accompanied the tale. I feel that I'm in the presence of Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and Goblins,

Anyone else out there like to read/write to a good album?

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Apologies, Mixing my Genres

I must apologies to fantasy fans who visit this site as quite a few reviews have been historical fiction orientated. It's an easy leap for fantasy fans and many novels about Rome, Egypt and other civilisations feature epic battles, gods, politics and much more that make fantasy tales so great. So if you are short of something to read, and have finished all my novels if course, there is always historical fiction.

#Bookreview Rome's Lost Son, by Robert Fabri

Rome's Lost Son (Vespasian, #6)Rome's Lost Son by Robert Fabbri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book has some slow moments, but also some fast action. What I like about this series is several authors have included Vespasian (the main character in this novel) in their tales. Narcissus also features, the Emperor's freedman. It's interesting to see the different viewpoints and there is some general agreement. It's good to read about Vespasian in his own right. I think I've read all the previous books and the tale is certainly epic, stretching from Armenia to Britannia (earlier novels).

This book sees Vespasian on the brink of despair. That part of the tale is nicely handled and quite believable. There's a lot of politics and at times too many names to keep up. The writing doesn't have the same depth or pace as some other writers in this genre, but it is still a good tale. There's not many battles in this book and one of the ones there is makes you marvel that Rome was such a top military power for so long. Some of the opposition sound horrific.

View all my reviews

Tuesday 27 October 2015

The Last Kingdom - TV Series

The series is based on Bernard Cornwell's books, so how well does it do as a TV series? The plot line is excellent and fairly close to the book. That's good as the books are a success and popular. It follows the tale of a young Saxon boy, renamed Uhtred when his brother is killed. Uhtred is captured by Danes and because of his plucky spirit they spare him and he is raised as a Dane.

If the series continues to follow the books it will be pretty good. England at the time is close to defeat and Uhtred plays a significant role, helping King Alfred. Bernard Cornwall always has a twist. In Sharp it was having an officer raised from the ranks that others didn't see him as a gentleman and therefore an officer. In Rebel it was a Northerner joining the Southern cause and again not being quite accepted. Here, Uhtred is never really trusted as he is a pagan (being raised by Danes) among some of the most god-fearing people of the time. It makes for an interesting clash of personalities.

However, there are some glaring mistakes. The interpretation of a shield wall is all too wrong. It may be that this first adaptation was unique to the first battle. In the scene the Danes form a three wall tall shield wall with no gaps and men crouching at the front to cover their feet. This is fine against arrows, but against another on-foot army it wouldn't work. You simply wouldn't have the numbers and the enemy would just outflank you.

 The battle is more fluid than a static wall of several layers.

Let's hope that the Last Kingdom changes battle tactics in future episodes, otherwise two armies facing each other in a shield wall would be very dull indeed. Otherwise, a very interesting programme.

Monday 26 October 2015

Dragon Rider - Book 2 of the Prophecy of the Kings

The eternal; question, who would win -- a dragon or a demon horde? Add sorcery to the mix and any outcome is no longer clear. War overshadows all reason.

Read Dragon Rider, Book 2 of the Prophecy of the Kings,

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell: a Book Review

AzincourtAzincourt by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It seems appropriate writing a review on the anniversary of the battle.

History is incredible. The similarity between Crecy and Agincourt (Azincourt as used in the title of Bernard Cornwell's book) is incredible and yet no one, especially the French knights of the time, seemed to have learned from that. The two battles are nearly 80 years apart and there are a lot of similarities. The long bow proves a dominant weapon in both battles.

In Agincourt the English, having spent far too long besieging Harfleur, decided to snub the French and march to Calais through France rather than prolong what was meant to be an invasion. The french army shadow the English army and Cornwell's description is excellent, of the starvation and illness dogging the English army's footsteps. It seems that every river crossing was blocked by the French and so the English route became far longer than necessary.

Cornwell describes the battle from the viewpoint of an English archer, Hook. The French were incensed that "rabble" were fighting knights, the gentry of the French aristocracy. Hook, is a down to earth, pragmatic character who comes across really well . As in most of Cornwell's books, the battle is not the main theme, rather it is Hook's clash with a knight in a massacre earlier in the war in Soisson. The tale involves saints and a terrible French knight who Hook knows he must face, although of course there is a twist in that tale.

Bernard Cornwell makes you feel as though you are living in through that period, which is no mean achievement for a writer and sometimes historical fiction novels fail to achieve that. I describe this issue in an earlier article World Building Tips for Authors

View all my reviews

Friday 23 October 2015

Writing a Book: World Building Tips

My experience is in fantasy and I would think that and science fiction are the most difficult genres to create your own world. Having said that, a problem for many writers in some other genres is conveying their world appropriately and a few books that I've read in the historical fiction genre failed to convey living and breathing in the past. It's an interesting point to explore why that happened and that may give you tips on building a realistic world.

1. Language. Some historical fiction writers don't manage to achieve a sense of being in the past Talking in Latin is a step too far and wouldn't be expected, although a smattering of historical words here and there are essential. For example naming weapons such as the gladius or pilum), and using appropriate names for their familiar surroundings (that may not be familiar to us) such as viaduct, and forum, to mention a few. Even getting a few words right though cannot sometimes convey the world correctly. Stephen Saylor did an excellent job describing a drop of water falling onto a riders neck as he left Rome. Looking up he saw moss on the stonework at the point of the leak. That description really takes you to Rome. For fantasy and sci-fi authors, in a previous article, I spoke about creating names and trying to make them sound sensible. creating names This is harder than it sounds. Some genres get it spot on and Star Trek is a great example, Warp speed for example is likely to be adapted to breaking the light barrier should it happen. So, create your own words and use them to describe ethnicity (e.g. Elves, Dwarves, Alvalah), creatures, weapons etc, but make them sound right and remember that just naming them doesn't bring your world to life..

2. Culture. As I said, language alone doesn't solely build a world. So why do some historical novels do well and others don't? It's because they simply don't achieve a connection with the past. You need to pick on a few really crucial aspects of your world and build them into the story. For example, in Roman times people believed in the gods. They would usually not do anything without a divination. Some authors fail to include that and this omission can be felt by a reader. It is as though a link has been broken. In fantasy and sci-fi writing, it's important to have some sense of culture that is different to ours. Some authors have borrowed heavily from our past and in some sense that can be appropriate and helps achieve an identity that everyone can relate to. Avatar is very similar to the Pocahontas story and the creatures of the planet are very similar to Native Americans. And why not? Their culture is primitive and their weapons are bows and arrows. Joe Abercrombie world is closely associated with Mountain Men. That adds realism and why shouldn't people living in the mountains have the same fears and face the same problems independent of their world. So you can adapt culture from our history, but add a few changes perhaps. You need to include this and build on it in the story. Once again though, the person in the narrative has to live that culture rather than using a few words here and there. You do not offer a libation to the gods, you stand by a river and search for a horse-shaped pebble and sprinkle wine over it. Looking up in the hope to see a sign that your offering is approved. A rook cawing may make you feel that it has, or ay send a shiver down your spine. You need to find a bridge.

3. The Environment. Again, some authors in historical fiction fail to build on this and hence lose the sense that you are actually living in the past. Imagine a Celt arriving in Rome for the first time and seeing the buildings and most importantly the Colosseum. That is a wow factor that really tells the reader that he is living in the past. Bring home the environment; that's the buildings, the roads (or lack of them), the forests etc. What is really important is to describe how people feel in these environments. Romans in Syria would complain about the dust and sand in their sandals (is there a link there? Sand - SANDals?). They would be hot and thirsty. The person needs to live in their environment and you need to make the reader believe that. What makes that environment different to ours, that may simply be the lack of air conditioning. For many readers being in a desert may not conjure up the real problems of actually being there. Add in a few gods from their culture, like not crossing a river/desert without a gift to some lesser god, and the tale becomes believable. Describe their feelings walking, say, through a run-down, mud brick house with a cooking fire still smouldering in the middle of the room and the smell of stale smoke hanging in the air. Show how their environment is different to ours.

4. Living. You need to explore how people live. Again historical fiction is a good example, Romans reclined on couches when eating and death was common place, therefore, life was cheap. I have separated this from culture as that section gets over long otherwise. Don't fall in to the trap of over describing food for example and do not give over-long lists. You can again borrow from our past and have people living in tents, being nomadic, being tribal etc, but consider what that means and describe how that makes life different. It is that that peaks the readers interest. You need to decide how people live and how they fight. Fighting is easy -- if the people have swords and bows then their defences will be appropriate to those weapons. If they have gunpowder, then people will adapt and you will have forts rather than castles. Do they ride horse, dragons or grakyn? Whichever you chose, they need some form of saddle perhaps, reins or some other control, stables, feed etc. The more you add, the more believable the world, but drwa a balance and don't over do it.

5. The Enemy. We are now straying into the plot which I describe in Creating a Plot, but we are still world building so it is worth mentioning here. The enemy need their own language, culture, environment and lifestyle. Are they creatures (Orcs, goblins etc) or are they people of other nations. Even in fantasy you don't necessarily need fantasy creatures and many authors (e.g. George Martin (up until the point of dragons of course)) create worlds where conflict arises simply because of ambition or cultural differences. 

An interesting point for fantasy and science fiction writers is there is a lot of choice. You can create unique worlds by simply mixing and matching any number of the above items. As an example, your people could be blind, living underground and worshiping worms. Whether such a tale would work is up to you and although I made this up at random - if you've read Duncton Wood you will see how an author did make the above example work. 

Finally, if I have missed anything or you disagree -- let me know and post a comment. 

Best wishes

An example of my world, Demons, Grakyn, Dragons and Death Knights. A world of fortified cities, superstition and fear.


Thursday 22 October 2015

One for Fantasy Fans - The Last Witch Hunter

I enjoyed this. It's got witches, which is always fun, and the big bad witch -- is truly bad. Vin Diesel takes on the role with the usual aplomb, hard man style and taking no prisoners.

The tale starts off in the past and then moves to the present. I liked the glimpse of the past and would have liked it to have stayed there. That part of the film is quite well done and the action gripping. In the transition to the future, some of that is lost. However, it wasn't disappointing, but it is one for fantasy fans mainly.

Michael Cain plays a priest looking after Vin Diesel's character and his role was a little too like Alfred in Batman. Elijah Wood has a part, but he features only a little and his role is a little wooden (pardon the pun). Fortunately he doesn't feature much.

Still -- it's quite good fun and I enjoyed it. Probably not memorable though.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Shortest Ever Review?

I am not complaining, all reviews are good, but I think this is the shortest I've had to date :)

"Enjoyed much, kept interested and wanting more." 4 out of 5 stars

Great to hear all reviews so please keep them coming. No matter how short.

Review Link

The Death of Dulgarth by Michael Sullivan

Just released so definitely on my to read list. Loved his series to date, Excellent fantasy from an imaginative author.

Death and Glory. Is it an Option?

Death and glory is not an option facing a demon when your soul is forfeit to eternal damnation. Would you stand and fight?

Read more in the Prophecy of the Kings.

Friday 9 October 2015

The Battle Immortal - Karen Azinger

I believe this is now out. It's a great series to date so I'm looking forward to reading book the 7th and final installment. Not sure how all the various threads will come together as there's a lot going on. If you haven't read the series it's well worth while