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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)

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…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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Just Jot It January: Day fourteen…

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As we reach the end of week two of Just Jot It January, it occurs to me (after reading some of the other posts that follow today’s prompt; “motivation”) that there are almost as many reasons for writing a blog as there are bloggers writing them.

I suppose it isn’t all that surprising, given the fact that everyone is unique and we all want something different from life, which explains why everyone has their own personal set of criteria for what makes blogging worthwhile.

For now though, I’m more interested in finding out why one blogger in particular chooses to do what they do.

Namely, me.

Because, if I’m honest, I really have no idea.

The only reason I’ve decided to break my self-imposed rule to try this month’s challenge without resorting to Linda G Hill’s prompts, is that I have been asked several times recently why I write, or what “inspires” me to do so, and I realised that it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about.

I had little or no interest in the internet until the arrival of smartphones, but as soon as I got my hands on the first primitive version of this incredible, science fiction-like pocket computer that we all now take for granted, I was hooked almost immediately.
And my first addiction was Facebook.

Initially, the nostalgic novelty of being able to reconnect with old school friends was enough to suck me into the social network, but after it became clear that I could communicate with an endless supply of other users, all over the world, people I’d never even heard of before, let alone met, I began to really have fun.

I have always loved language; the way words work, the etymology of communication and the way sentences seem to just flow when they spill from the word processor, typewriter or pen of certain writers.
The way that writers like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett could turn an everyday phrase into a comedic gem by adding a couple (or a few) extra words, words that didn’t strictly need to be there, but oh, you were glad of their understanding of what gave those extra words power.
The way that those little black marks on a page can form pictures in your head fascinated me, even as a child, but it had just never occurred to me to try to translate that wonder into pictures of my own.

But once I began to write smartass comments on Facebook and construct little rants and memes of my own, mainly for my own entertainment, I found the idea of having a platform of my own, from which I could address the vast expanse of the Weird Wide Web, increasingly attractive.
This first dabbling in virtual creativity coincided with my introduction by a  mutual friend to the extraordinarily talented blogger, author, globetrotting urban explorer and all round bohemian, Mr Darmon Richter, who encouraged and assisted me in making my bumbling way into the blogosphere.

Meanwhile, WordPress made the process of getting started an idiot-proof experience, even for someone with my Olympian level of idiocy with all things internet related and Diary of an Internet Nobody was born.

And then I started writing stuff down. I didn’t know any better.

As anyone who knows me personally will tell you, I can talk.
And talk.
So, with an audience of, theoretically, several billion, I just started writing what I’d say if I was talking to you, (until you surreptitiously looked at your watch and mumbled about needing to be somewhere, anywhere, urgently) I didn’t see the point of having a theme, my reasoning was; I’m not an expert on anything, I’ll just say whatever comes into my head and see if anyone listens.

Then fiction came along.
Well, it had been there before, I’d read bloody loads of it.
But this time I thought I’d do it from the sharp end, so to speak.*

Then I stumbled upon Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompts and I thought I’d have a go at doing them all as short stories.
Which is where I get to the point where it all gets a bit vague, because from the first time I sat down to write a story, it was, umm, well, it was easy.

I know that sounds smug and immodest, but I don’t know how else to explain it.
My very first attempt was prompted by;
” “ke.”  Use the letter combination at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the word you choose to base your post on…”
And this came to me, literally as I wrote it.
I was quite pleased, despite the fact a few people didn’t get it (you might need to read it twice) and every other story I’ve written, with the exception of The Wrong Stuff (which I had a rough idea about for the first post and then decided it would be fun to see where it went on its own) has been pretty much the same way, with varying levels of success.
Including having three stories published in an anthology, available on Amazon AT THIS LINK, just in case I’d forgotten to mention that.

None of which comes anywhere close to tackling “motivation” I’m afraid, but then I did tell you at the start that I had no idea.

* – I read this a few times and I know it doesn’t work as an analogy, but I still like it.

#JusJoJan

Pingback to Linda G Hill.

 

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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.

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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;
“TIME TO GO SIR TERRY. WERE YOU RIGHT?”

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

 

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