Tag Archives: literature

All the world’s a page…

Today is World Book Day, a fact I was made aware of by Audrey, who went to school dressed as a witch, (her class are all being Harry Potter characters for the day) as part of the global celebration of all things literary.

Obviously I’m going to cynically use this as an excuse to promote Stories In Green Ink, the anthology containing my first published works of short fiction (written as Guy Thair)


…ahead of the second collection featuring another one of my stories, which should be out later this month.

But I’m also going to take the opportunity to recommend a few of my (possibly rather predictable) all time favourite book series, starting with one that is soon to make its long-awaited appearance at the movies.


Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is an extraordinarily ambitious and groundbreaking epic that defies classification.
It takes a classic western theme and mixes it with elements of thriller, mystery, fantasy, horror and sci-fi, resulting in a deeply satisfying and unique tale that takes the reader on a thrilling journey that manages to combine our world and that of the anti-hero, Roland, the last Gunslinger in a way that is natural and seamless.
Many people have told me they hadn’t read the books “because I don’t like horror stories”, but King is so much more than a horror writer and if you appreciate a fantastic story that’s beautifully written then I urge you to enter the world of the Dark Tower, I promise you won’t regret it.


I know I’ve enthused about the genius of Douglas Adams on many occasions, but this is simply because I cannot praise him enough.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books are without doubt some of the funniest I’ve ever read (even after reading them over a dozen times, they still make me laugh out loud) and the story of Arthur Dent and his adventures in Adams’ surreal universe are endlessly inventive and thought-provoking.


I couldn’t possibly talk about books without once again plugging the awesome Terry Pratchett and his hugely popular and influential Discworld™ series.
Terry has been compared to writers as diverse as P.G. Wodehouse and Jonathan Swift; his talent for taking everyday situations and familiar stereotypes and relocating them to his own version of the universe enables him to discuss important social issues and intellectual concepts in a way that is not only accessible but hilarious, with a wit and warmth that very few authors have ever achieved.


And finally, a series of which many of you may never have heard; G.W. Dahlquist’s Glass Books of the Dream Eaters trilogy.
“Steampunk” covers a wide range of styles, but I think the Glass Books series epitomizes the genre; a faux-Victorian setting, a rollicking adventure, dark humour, a creeping sense of dread, erotic undertones and mysteriously advanced technologies being put to sinister use, Dahlquist crams all this and more into his books, which follow three wildly differing protagonists who have to rely on each other to foil the dastardly plans of some truly despicable villains.

So there is my contribution to World Book Day, I hope you are sufficiently tempted by my choices that you go and seek out at least one of my recommendations. With nearly fifty titles to choose from, it should be a while before you need to top up your book pile.

To play us out, who else but Elvis Costello and the 1983 classic, Every Day I Write The Book.


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Published at last (aka the Big Reveal)…

Well it’s finally happened, I’ve been published.

In an actual book!

Yes, the waiting is over; I received an e-mail this morning from the lovely Catherine Broughton, writer of the blog Turquoise Moon, telling me that Stories In Green Ink, compiled by Anna Trowbridge, makes its debut on Amazon this morning.


But that isn’t all. I’m also lucky enough to have had two stories included in the collection, and I was asked to supply the dedication for the book.

Now, somewhat confusingly for some of you, (possibly some recent readers may not yet have got the hang of my slightly peculiar nom-de-blog) I’ve chosen to publish these stories under my real name, Guy Thair, so don’t be too surprised when you can’t find any works of sparkling creative genius credited to “dalecooper57”.

However, there’s no need to worry about that, I shall still answer to “Dale” on the blog because, well, I’ve become rather fond of my fictional alter-ego and I don’t want him wandering around in my head with nothing to do, I have enough trouble keeping him busy as it is.

Plus, “dalecooper57” is quite a useful and unique trademark in itself and I don’t want to mess up all my internet search results.

My two contributions to this anthology of fiction by new writers are a couple of twisty little mysteries with a sting in the tale which I’m inordinately proud of.
So, please FOLLOW THIS LINK and avoid Christmas disappointment by ordering your copy immediately, (why not get a couple for friends too) and if you could leave a review and share the Amazon link, I’d be extremely grateful.

Thanks again to Catherine for all her hard work getting the book submissions organised and thank you, my loyal readers, for providing me with an audience.
Because without you lot for me to entertain, I may never have got this far to begin with.


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One liner Wednesday: First drafts…

“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the allergies began to take hold.”

Fear and sneezing Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson,


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One liner Wednesday: First drafts…

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune and a fast carriage must be heading for a mid-life crisis.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)


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One liner Wednesday: First drafts…

“It was the day my grandmother exfoliated…”

– Iain Banks, The Crow Road, 1992.


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One liner Wednesday: First drafts…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the spring of hope, it was nearly teatime.”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities 


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One liner Wednesday: First drafts…

“A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a….yes dear?…no, you’re right of course, filthy habit, I’ll go and smoke it in the shed…”

– Rudyard Kipling.


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Epilogue for our Terry…

I’ve always loved reading.

When I was a kid I was always fascinated by the power stories had to so completely take me there, to take me by the imagination and lead me off to new worlds and different times, each hungrily devoured book evoking a unique set of sensations and emotions, each new scene, character and location lovingly crafted by the resident director and set designer in my head, until I could instantly bring to mind’s eye any one of the hundreds of protagonists created by my favourite authors.

Because when you’re there, when you are in the story, nothing is more real than that moment, nothing matters more than what happens next.
Do the forces of good triumph over the evil villain?
Do the plucky kids escape the clutches of the terrifying monster?
Is there, when all is said and done, a Happy Ending for every Once Upon A Time?

That love of the written story, the appreciation of movies that are more cerebral than celluloid, has stayed with me ever since, so it was with immense sadness that I read of the loss this week of England’s most successful, widely loved and accessible author of recent times, Sir Terry Pratchett.

I’m sure I came to Terry’s work in much the same way that innumerable other soon-to-be-fans did, by having one of his satirical comic fantasy Discworld novels thrust upon me by an enthusiastic friend who had already been bitten by the Pratchett bug (in my case it was the fifth book Sourcery, introducing me to one of the many recurring characters in the series, the cowardly, accident prone but seemingly indestructible wizard, Rincewind) and I’m ashamed to admit that I experienced a touch of skepticism at first.

I had been a massive, possibly even annoyingly evangelical fan of the late, great Douglas Adams for many years and loved the witty and humorous spin he had put on the sometimes po-faced and oh-so-serious world of science fiction, but the more traditional sort of fantasy had always been a genre I’d had a problem getting into (I’ve never understood the attraction of the likes of Tolkien) so the thought of a comedy about wizards, witches, trolls and dwarves didn’t sound promising.

It just so happened that I was travelling to a family get together with my parents that weekend, so I took Sourcery with me in case I got tired of winding up my sister on the journey.

I read the whole thing, cover to cover without once looking up from the page, frequently laughing out loud and  grinning with the simple delight of how he wrangled language into such hilarious contortions, instantly etching images of a totally new universe into whichever part of my brain is responsible for absorbing literature.

From that moment I was hooked.


Rarely has an author brought such a fully formed, completely original universe into existence, especially one filled with as many instantly relatable and likeable characters and situations as the Discworld.
You see the thing about the Discworld, other than it being an intrinsically magical place of course, a place where pretty much anything can happen, is that it’s here.

It’s our world.
Our society, our myths and legends, our bigotry and prejudice, our fears and paranoia, all transposed onto a flat disc that spins through the depths of space on the backs of four gigantic elephants, balancing on the even more gigantic shell of a ponderously swimming turtle, heading who-knows-where on its eternal journey across the cosmos.

That’s what makes the humour and observations on Ankh-Morpork society so immediate, so easily identifiable, because all of life is here, in all its everyday familiarity.
Because we all know someone like Fred Colon, we’ve all met a Nobby Nobbs or two and if we’re lucky we’ve got an elderly relative like Nanny Ogg.
And who hasn’t exchanged a few quid for the questionable wares of a local version of Cut-me-own-throat Dibbler after a night out drinking has sufficiently deadened the tastebuds?

Terry Pratchett tackled contentious issues like politics, racism and religious intolerance with razor sharp wit and biting satire, yet he didn’t preach.
He had a love of language unequal to almost any other writer I can think of, the joy of storytelling coming through in every word.
His ability to bring characters to life with the briefest phrase or nuance was second to none and his natural narrative style makes every one of his books nearly impossible to put down.

If writing was the only thing that made Terry special, then we’d still have lost a great man, but at the root of his popularity was his personality. His support for young writers and his willingness to engage with his audience, young and old, made him all the more likable, and that in itself somehow makes the books an even greater pleasure to read.

It leads to the feeling that Terry himself is nudging you and chuckling as you read one of the many hilarious footnotes that appear throughout the Discworld books, nesting jokes within jokes as though he just can’t resist having as much fun as he can with the words he weaves his world from.

For the last few years he has tirelessly campaigned for more research into and awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, and for the law governing medically-assisted suicide to be changed, to decriminalize the relatives of those who wish to assist their loved ones in ending lives of misery and indignity, and free them from the possibility of prosecution.

I once saw an interview with Terry, during which he said an old lady had written to tell him that when she died, she hoped that it was “your Death who comes to meet me”, referring to the strangely sympathetic and dryly humorous character of Death from the Discworld books.
I’ve also heard him talk very passionately about evolution and atheism, so I doubt very much whether he was expecting much more than fading peacefully away with his family gathered around him, which was the case when he passed away in bed on Thursday.
But it would be nice to think that, as the final scene faded to black, just for a few seconds the Shade of Terry Pratchett could look up into that oddly empty, black and starless sky, feel that gritty black sand beneath his rapidly fading feet, turn to the ice blue eyes burning from deep within those bony sockets and hear that tombstone voice;


Goodbye Terry and thanks for everything.
28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015.


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A dying breed…

It is often said that we put our heroes on a pedestal, but I think that there’s more to it than that.
We confer a sort of immortality on them, so that when they do succumb to the inevitability of time, disease, overindulgence, or bad driving, it comes as somehow more of a shock than if it were someone we knew.

This applies to heroes of the literary world in a special way, since their legacy can be re-discovered by so many new generations down the years.
And although movie stars may have a huge fanbase, who undoubtedly mourn their passing, it doesn’t take long for movies to become dated and unfashionable, leaving their stars fading in time and memory.


Whereas we all know that the best pictures are in our heads, and that we can make any book into the biggest budget blockbuster, or the most low-tech Indie debut, and each person sees it differently, giving books a longevity that most films just don’t have.

Maybe this is of some consolation to those giants of the literary world who leave a large body of work behind them, knowing that they will give so much pleasure to readers for, possibly, hundreds of years.

I hope so.

There is also that slightly selfish thought of “Oh no, that means I won’t be able to read any more of those great books”, which I guess is natural, given how much we invest in the characters and their universes, created in our minds, in partnership with the author in a kind of symbiosis, mutually beneficial to both parties.

I clearly remember hearing about Douglas Adams’ tragically premature death in 2001 and feeling a sense of loss that at first I didn’t fully understand, but that I now suppose I would equate to the feeling of shock you get when a close friend has died suddenly.


When Stephen King was badly injured in a road accident, I’m sure that like myself, fans around the world were willing on his recovery, and I’m equally sure that the many millions of people that have been amazed, shocked, awed, sometimes baffled, but always entertained by the brilliant Iain Banks since his dazzling debut, The Wasp Factory took the literary world by storm, will be deeply saddened to hear of his announcement this week that he has gall bladder cancer, and is unlikely to live more than a few months, just allowing him enough time to finish his current novel, The Quarry.


Banks’ extraordinary back catalogue contains enough work for two novelists, and that is pretty much the case, with Iain Banks publishing a wide variety of non-genre fiction, and Iain M Banks writing incredibly complex,  breathtakingly large scale, space opera science fiction, both of which he does in his own unique style.

On hearing the terrible news, I immediately felt the need to pass on his gift of genius to others, to help ensure the continued appreciation of his work in some small way, finally badgering a fellow blogger in South Africa so much, she actually went and bought a copy of his first novel the next day.

Another shock to readers of classic horror fiction, but not a shock of the good kind, was the news that James Herbert has died.

Generations of teenagers, including mine, have grown up with his particularly british mix of the supernatural – mutations of nature, occult goings-on, demented serial killers, secret Nazi plots to acquire the Spear of Destiny – and raunchy love scenes that, if you were the cynical type, you might think were included less for plot development, and more to attract even more hormone-drenched adolescent readers.


Herbert’s The Rats was one of the first horror novels I ever read, and it set the standard as far as I was concerned. For any book to deserve the “horror” tag after that, it had to really scare you when you were in that world.
If it didn’t, it hadn’t taken you there.

But for me, by far the most poignant prospect for the ending of a truly glittering career is that of a man whose work has been read by untold millions of people all over the world, has blurred the line between children’s and adult fiction in both directions, and has, with his Discworld™ series, created a whole magical universe, where all things are possible, but will almost certainly not happen in the most convenient order.

I have been a huge Terry Pratchett fan for many years, but since the discovery that he was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and heard him talk frankly and openly on the subject of assisted suicide, (Terry has stated publicly that when the time comes that he can no longer write, and therefore have any meaningful life, he will take his own life, in the comfort of his own home, surrounded by his loved ones), I haven’t read many of his new books.
The reason for this may seem strange to some of you, but I’m sure it’ll make sense to someone.

You see, I have this irrational worry that if I go rushing out to buy, and hungrily consume, all of his books the moment they come out, as I always used to, then a time will come when he is no longer around, and I’ll know that I will never read another of his books.
Nowadays I buy them all as they come out, (I’m attempting to collect all the Discworld™ books in hardback) but then just put them on the shelf, only re-reading previous books, against that day in the hopefully not-too-near future when the World Turtle Great A’Tuin swims out of my own personal universe forever.


Except of course, the stories never really leave us, calling to us from between the covers, eager to be read once again, to take us back to those places to which only books, and those magicians of words, authors, can transport us.


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The write stuff. Final chapter…

I knew I was never going to be able to write these posts whilst sticking to my original five (Ha!) books, without thinking of some that had slipped my mind.
So before I get to my last two official choices (and before any more occur to me) here are a couple of others that I can’t not include.


Millennium by John Varley is an ’80s Sci-fi novel about a dying future society that uses time travel to send specially trained teams back to the present day to kidnap people for spare parts.
So far, so freaky, but it’s the fact that they plan the snatches at moments in time when the people in question won’t be missed.

Like just before a plane crash for instance.

And if you replaced the missing people with pre-charred bodies, who’d know…?

It was later made into a rather unsuccessful movie, but even if you’ve already seen that, I’d still recommend reading the source material. And if you do so with other, more recent aircraft-related disasters in mind, it becomes even more chilling.

Steampunk appears to be growing in popularity in recent years, and one of my favourite examples of this rollicking sub-genre of fantasy is the extraordinary neo-Victorian epic The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G.W. Dahlquist, first of a trilogy of adventures featuring three unlikely heroes battling evil mystical scientists in what one reviewer described as “…a cross between Sherlock Holmes and the Marquis de Sade, with the production values of Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
I have to admit that I’ve not got round to reading the last volume yet, but I loved the first two and look forward to the exciting conclusion.


Speaking of which, we have now got to the final two, in no particular order, of my not-really-top-five (ish) books, so…

In the introduction to the first edition of Stephen King‘s book The GunslingerFirst in the epic Dark Tower saga – he writes that not even he knows where the story will lead, nor whether it’s hero, enigmatic, troubled Roland Deschain will actually survive the journey.
A courageous claim to make when you want your “Constant Reader” to invest their time and imagination in a work that eventually runs into seven volumes (eight, if you include the recent Wind Through the Keyhole) and a few thousand pages.


Yet, stay with it millions of us did, and the rewards for doing so are considerable.

The world in which Roland lives is described as having “moved on”, which we take to mean an advanced civilisation that has, for some reason, declined and returned to it’s primitive beginnings, technology forgotten and fallen into disrepair.

He roams the desert in pursuit of The Man in Black, an ancient enemy who we discover more about in flashback as the books progress. We also find out more about Roland’s history, and why he is on his quest to reach the Dark Tower, the axis of all worlds.


On his journey, he draws companions from our present day reality – a young boy, Jake Chambers, a junkie, Eddy Dean, and a disabled woman, Odetta Holmes – into his world, to assist him in his quest.
All of these characters have demons and secrets in their pasts, which they can escape by surrendering to the call of the Dark Tower.
But at what cost?

The way in which the narrative threads it’s way in and out of our world and Roland’s is seamlessly achieved, and the plot is ambitious and satisfying. We really want Roland to reach the end of his quest, to reveal the secrets of the fabled Tower at the centre of a world that’s moved on…

The series was inspired both by ’60s Spaghetti Westerns, and by Robert Browning‘s epic poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, and it has a dark, sweeping grandeur not found in King’s other works.

So anyone who might be put off by the fact that these may be “horror” books, should approach them with an open mind, ready to be drawn into a remarkable world where westerns, fantasy, Sci-fi, and yes, horror too, combine to stunning effect.


Many people consider John le Carré‘s master secret agent George Smiley to be the ultimate fictional espionage hero, but I have a soft spot for a more amiable, ambling, man of the people type of spy.


Bernard Samson is the spy in question, and he leads us through not one, not two, but three trilogies of ’80s cold war intrigue, all told in a dry, cynical tone, as befitting a man whose career hasn’t been helped by the fact that his wife – another high ranking officer in “the Department” – has recently returned from having defected to the other side.


The novels follow a story which takes the reader on a globetrotting trip of various hotbeds of political and military unrest, with Bernard searching for answers about his wife’s defection, secrets in his own past, and a mole within the Department. All the while having to deal with the backstabbing, conniving machinations of the public school old boys’ club that make up the upper echelons of the secret service.


The books form such a coherent narrative that in the foreword, Deighton says that a literary professor wrote to him, saying that he got his students to read the books in reverse order, to study plot and character development.

There is even a stand-alone volume, Winter, that follows the history of some of the characters’ families, during the second world war.

I would say that if you think “spy novels” mean James Bond gadgets and glamorous women with names like Illavya Bolloksov, you should give some well written, intricately plotted fiction, that just happens to be set in the world of espionage a chance.
You might be pleasantly surprised.

And that’s it.

Except…I’ve just worked out that my original five books have finally come in at a total of 42.

Douglas Adams wouldn’t be surprised to hear that,

I get all my reading material at the wonderful Tarka Books


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