November: Book readings, Grammarly, novels and NANOWRIMO

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I don’t normally write by candlelight on an old typewriter – but when I do it’s with a wine glass balanced on top! Not a bad way to spend an evening. Pic: Tim Hartridge

Roving

November was action-packed. And hot! I attended the Sydney Storytellers event at the Stoneleigh Hotel, an immersive installation set up in a historic building in Kensington Street, Sydney (renamed ‘Spice Alley’, for those in the know, and bursting with tasty, colourful eateries).

New Zealand-based Stoneleigh Wines was behind the venture and ensured the vino was flowing all night, complemented by a giant cheese platter. It was one of the hottest evenings I’ve spent in Sydney and there were many shiny faces as we tried to compensate for the humidity by drinking more chilled sauvignon blanc (perhaps not the wisest move, there was a slight hangover the next day). All in all, it was a brilliant night. Wine and writing, the ultimate pairing!

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Authors Anna Westbrook, Sulari Gentill, Alexandra Joel and Josephine Pennicott read pieces from their latest work while the audience waited to have books signed. Pic: Rebecca Lang

Writing

November means Nanowrimo, but despite my best effort, I didn’t quite nail those 50,000 elusive words. I blame work. And stuff. General tiredness. Sunshine and flowers. Distractions. Food. But it was still a pretty productive time. I was still writing and progressing my urban fantasy piece.

I’ve also been trialling Grammarly’s free Grammar Checker app. Occasionally it’s distracting, particularly when it tells me to change my words to American spellings (sorry American friends, for us it’s colour not color). On the whole, though, it’s a neat little tool that, I’m pleased to say, I don’t have to rely on too often – only when I type too fast and leave a litany of typos in my wake.

Reading

Some great books found me in November.

Superfluous Murder by Hazel Holt (Macmillan London) – Before stumbling upon one of her books at the local train station, I had never heard of Hazel, mother of novelist Tom Holt. Surprising, given she penned a series of books based around a village detective character not unlike Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries. Holt’s Sheila Malory is a slightly more modern, and younger, take on the elderly single female sleuth. The style is engaging and the twist/murderer reveal, while I picked it, would have been a pretty fresh take in 1995 when this was first published. I found this book up at my local train station book exchange for free, so I’ll be chasing up Holt’s other books online.

The Three Miss Allens by Victoria Purman (Harlequin Mira) – This is a story that spans generations and families with plenty of romance and history, not to mention a mystery! (Some unintentional rhyming going on there.) The book is set in one of my favourite time periods, the 1930s, and follows Roma Harris in the present-day as she moves to the small town of Remarkable Bay in South Australia. Roma runs into her distant cousin Addy who, like her, is bunkering down and taking time out from life. When the pair discover an old guest book with a family name they don’t recognise, they set out to solve a family mystery.

Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch (Thomas & Mercer) – It’s hard to convey just how much I enjoyed this series. As thrillers go, it certainly was a heart-pounding read. I actually had to put one of the books down as I was reading it in bed and knew with my heart rate skyrocketing the way it was,  I’d never go to sleep! I devoured the books in the space of 10 days, fitting in readings on train journeys and before bed. I’d recommend writers seeking to improve their pacing and sense of suspense use these books as a template for manipulating the blood pressure of readers. Now I’m hunting down the new Wayward Pines Fox adaptation starring Matt Dillon and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

A nod to a contemporary ghost story

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It’s a long time between drinks here on the blog – I think I should rename this little corner of the Internet ‘The Inconstant Blogger’; a faithful online diarist I am not.

Anyhoo, just thought I’d break the drought and post a quick nod to one of my long-time favourite authors Phil Rickman.

I’ve been a fan for more than 20 years (yikes!) and I’m pleased to have watched the growing popularity of such a talented and exceptional writer who has gathered about him a passionate and very active fan base of readers.

His latest book, Night After Night, is classic contemporary ghost story fare by someone who knows his terror from his horror, and when to play up each element to full effect.

I’ve just posted my review over at Amazon.com. But for the lazy, here it is:

A tightly written, suspenseful ghost story with a twist, Night After Night leaves the reader questioning what’s real, and what’s unreal.

We’re quickly drawn into the cut-throat world of reality television, which serves as the platform for a ‘Big Brother’ style program that places participants – fading celebrities, skeptics and believers alike – into a so-called haunted house for several weeks in the pursuit of ‘great telly’.

Drawn into this circus are old-school spiritual warriors Grayle Underhill (journalist) and Cindy Mars Lewis (a cross-dressing shaman), two faces already well-known in the Rickmanverse as stalwarts of his ‘Will Kingdom’ novels, Cold Calling and Mean Spirit. By the by, if ever two characters deserved more than a couple of books, it’s the colourful Grayle and Cindy (and their associates).


Rickman skillfully weaves the many strands of this well-plotted story, which features, as always, the landscape as a character – in this instance the brooding Belas Knap, a nearby neolithic burial mound.


Nobody explores the foggy, grey boundaries of crime and the supernatural better than Rickman.

Bring on the next one!

Be warned, once you read one of Phil’s books you’ll be hooked, but it’s okay because Rickman has quite the backlist so you’ll be entertained for some time to come.

If you’re all up to speed on your Rickmans then head on over to your reviewing platform of choice and share the love. Reviews help sell books, and nothing’s sweeter than word-of-mouth endorsements.

And if you’re still hankering for a fix and want to keep your head in the spooky, dark Rickmanverse, I highly recommend joining and participating in the Phil Rickman Appreciation Society (aka PRAS, a Facebook-based fan group that PR himself visits from time to time). A friendlier bunch of book lovers with discerning musical and fashion taste you will not meet…

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