Tag: character

A Good Old-Fashioned Murder

Review: The Lake District Murder – by John Bude

You know what’s nice? Watching people who are good at things do them well. There’s something so utterly satisfying about it.

This is the reason I love watching the Olympics, the rugby world cup… less so the football world cup! I love watching shows where people make stuff, like glass blowing, wood working and mending cars.

Of course, it’s always a pleasure to watch Hercule Poirot go about deducting, but there’s always something kept from the viewer/reader. Poirot is always held above – we don’t figure things out at the same time as he does, because we aren’t finicky little Belgians with a penchant for details. We’ve got jobs and messy flats, and hobbies beyond trimming mustachios.

The Lake District Murder doesn’t focus on superhuman personality and mighty little grey cells, instead the reader follows the process of some good, careful, thorough policing.

When a body is found at an isolated garage, Inspector Meredith is drawn into a complex investigation where every clue leads to another puzzle: was this a suicide, or something more sinister? Why was the dead man planning to flee the country? And how is this connected to the shady business dealings of the garage? This classic mystery novel is set amidst the stunning scenery of a small village in the Lake District.

In contrast with the irrepressible personality of detectives like Poirot, Inspector Meredith is almost without personality. He’s how I imagine a right and proper gent from the 30s – he always stops for lunch, he’s always punctual, never complains and has a healthy respect for his bosses. He’ll go the extra mile to solve a case, not because he’s on a mission for justice so much as because it’s his job, so that’s what he’s supposed to do.

We follow Inspector Meredith and are party to his innermost thoughts, both when he thinks then and when he reports them, working with him as he extrapolates his findings and posits solutions. In spite of the dead body, this is such a low drama mystery, as gentle and meandering as the roads around the Lake District which he must traverse on his combination motorbike.

Worth noting I’ve not been to the Lake District since I was 12 and as such have very little idea of the roads.

To compare this to the high-octane thrillers and American cop dramas I’ve been more familiar with, this probably reminds me most of Bones, both the tv show and the Kathy Reichs books. It’s methodical, it’s the complex made simple. The whodunnit aspect of The Lake District Murder isn’t a secret for long – we know for most of the book- the journey and the excitement comes from bringing the perpetrators to justice, in finding proof where there seems to be none, and all with careful, methodical thought and action. Gentle and uniquely satisfying, this book gave me the same kind of joy as watching Edd China replacing brake discs.

See how you feel about extremely thorough police work here!

Too Many Beheadings, Too Little Hygiene

Review: Eliza Rose – by Lucy Worsley

I think I’ve mentioned before that Game of Thrones has encouraged me, by dint of being both awesome and fuelled by gore, to seek out other historically themed gross-fests. As such, I accidentally spent 6 hours yesterday watching The Tudors. Late to the party, as always, but isn’t it a ridiculous show? There is actually a ghost in it. A ghost! And everyone is young and sexy. Almost everyone!

I’ve never been a big fan of the Tudor part of history – too many beheadings and too little hygiene – but recently there have been quite a few documentaries which have opened up the period for me like never before.

Of course, we all know Henry VIII – a capricious, bearded, fat man who couldn’t catch a break when it came to siring heirs.

Arguably my finest work.

He’s the one with all the wives – so many we made a rhyme about it just to remember them all. What else do I know about his wives? Well there was the one who was too old, the one who might have been a witch…  and another four, one of whom was likened to a horse…

Perhaps it’s because I am now so very old that I can’t remember much we learned about the Tudors in school. Perhaps it’s because it’s not a period I’ve read a lot of fiction around, but boy, did I know hardly anything about those wives!

Sometimes with history, with lives already lived, finished and conclusively summarized, it’s easy to forget these were three-dimensional people with their own motivations. We remember people by their York Notes, but condensing six wives – the lives of six queens, one of whom inspired a change in this country’s entire religious structure and sparked years of religious persecution – down to a rhyme doesn’t feel like enough for me anymore. And they were such interesting people. I don’t expect to get a particularly true account from The Tudors, but I do always find that reading fiction around a subject is a good way to learn a broader overview of the facts. Enter, Eliza Rose.

I like Lucy Worsley. I’ll stop there, rather than subject you to my sycophantic bleatings, but be aware that I like Lucy Worsley like Lesley Knope likes Ann Perkins.

With my interest kindled by The Tudors and an appetite for fiction, what better book to come up on my Amazon recs than Eliza Rose? I did mainly buy it because it’s by Lucy Worsley, though.

Eliza Rose Camperdowne is young and headstrong, but she knows her duty well. As the only daughter of a noble family, she must one day marry a man who is very grand and very rich.

But Fate has other plans. When Eliza becomes a maid of honour, she’s drawn into the thrilling, treacherous court of Henry the Eighth …

Is her glamorous cousin Katherine Howard a friend or a rival?

And can a girl choose her own destiny in a world ruled by men?

Now, this is pitched as a children’s book so I thought that, like the first Harry Potter book, it might be difficult to read as an adult. Not so much, as it happens – it certainly isn’t written down. It’s both a coming of age book for Eliza, our fictional main character, and a lovely humanisation of Katherine Howard. In spite of not knowing much about her, she’s been my preferred of the wives for a while, if only for the whole being called Katherine thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Katherine isn’t portrayed here as a particularly nice person – she’s controlling, flirtatious and often cruel – but Worsley explores her motivations fairly and fleshes her out beyond a two dimensional “silly girl” who didn’t realise she couldn’t just sleep with anybody she wanted while she was married to the King.

With Eliza, I learned what a position at court really meant, and what she had to be prepared to do to succeed. Eliza Rose made real – albeit in a gentle, suitable for children way – the decisions any young woman at court had to make. Eliza Rose, and Katherine Howard too, were very human, vulnerable and clever. It’s an interesting book I devoured in one sitting, and has such a wealth of glorious historical detail. I’d expect nothing less. Highly recommended, and I’d love a sequel!

I’m on the lookout for some good fiction around the rest of the wives, I’d love to hear if you’ve any recommendations?

Try Eliza Rose here, and let me know what you think!

About The Author

Review: About The Author – John Colapinto

To start with a gross generalisation, there’s little more interesting to writers than writers, and the most interesting writer to any writer is themselves. We marvel at our own artistic process, the way we can torture ourselves and hate ourselves and bleed into the page, and create unreadable rubbish and then – on magical moments – emerge with words of true genius. Words we may not even remember writing, but which speak to humanity with truth and ageless wisdom.

It’s the allure of the artist, the god creator, world builder, and purveyor of lies and truth in equal measure. And we write about ourselves, and then lie about it.

Experience colours what you write, and I am written into every line of sin and murder in my own books by dint only of having written them, (not, I hasten to add, due to having done any of that stuff). Perhaps that’s because I’m a ham writer, but perhaps it’s just the nature of being human. We can never fully dissociate from ourselves.

Enter About The Author, a Hitchcockian thriller about precisely that – the separation of the story and the writer.

Cal Cunningham lives a debauched life filled with hollow love affairs, only so at some point he can write the next great American novel about it all.

He doesn’t write a word for years.

Unbeknownst to him, his quiet flatmate Stewart harbours his own dream to be a writer, and has written a novel based on stories Cal has told him, even using Cal’s title – Almost Like Suicide.

Following a freak accident which claims Stewart’s life, Cal feels no qualms about stealing the manuscript and passing it off as his own – he is the protagonist, after all! It’s based on his own past, his own words are quoted. Never mind that Stewart’s skilled prose far exceeds anything Cal could hope to have matched.

What follows is a tense path to fame and riches, followed by increasingly desperate actions on Cal’s part to try and prevent his fall from grace.

Let’s not beat around the bush – Cal’s an asshole. An unmitigated asshole. He is selfish and self-obsessed, and the bruising of his ego at the discovery of Stewart’s hidden talents is the catalyst for the hot mess of Cal’s ascent to the glory he thinks he deserves, but has yet to earn.

But Stewart, the poor, wronged genius taken too soon, is also an asshole, and so too are most of the people in the book. Yet in spite of all this assholery, I found myself warming to Cal. I wanted him to succeed because by the end, boy did he work for that success. As to whether or not he gets it, I’ll leave to you to find out.

About The Author is a masterclass of rising tension, and a pleasantly uncomfortable read.

See if you agree here, and I’d love to know what you think!

How Not to Waste Your Life

Review: In Twenty Years: A Novel, by Allison Winn Scotch

I’m at a point in my life, and seem to have been for the past six or so years, where I feel like I should know what I’m doing.

I spent – and I daresay, we spent – our school years dreaming of the lives we’d have as adults. Be that with marriages and children or with glittering careers, or both! In university I was impatient to start this ascent to the life I dreamed of, that I had been preparing for for so many years. I’m still impatient for it now, but I have no idea how to go about it. I’m nearly thirty, which is pretty much the half way point between having left school and achieving the accolade of being a Well-Rounded and Settled Adult(TM), and I seem further away from whatever it is I want out of life than ever, and have even less idea about what it is I actually do want.

In Twenty Years: A Novel, shows that I am not remotely alone.

Sadly no knitwear is actually featured in the story.

This novel follows a group of friends who lived together at college, and their reunion twenty years later.

One of their number, Bea, who held the group together, is dead. The other five have been splintered and fractured by unrequited loves and petty rivalries. One is a top plastic surgeon, another an ageing and fabulously famous rock star. One is a rich housewife and lady of leisure, one is the Martha Stewart-style head of her own craft empire, and the last, her husband, is a stay at home father and former lawyer.

In spite of each of the characters being unusually successful (not a single one isn’t fantastically wealthy), and all having achieved their dreams, each has lost their way. The lives they envisaged for themselves at college haven’t turned out as they planned. To all appearances they are happy and fulfilled, but each has their own secret shame that they will do anything to hide from their seemingly perfect former friends.

Actually, I can’t relate to that all that much, being as I am neither successful nor wealthy. But nonetheless, these characters all seemed very human, in a way I don’t recall finding in any other novel I have read. Perhaps the idea of losing your way, and the feelings of shame and separation from everyone you used to know, who appear to be doing so well (via their carefully curated lives on social media) are themes all millenials such as myself can relate to.

Over the course of this story, Bea is the central character, in spite of her only being present as narrator for the first chapter. Her death clings to the group, as they each remember how friendship with her made them a better person. Her view of them, if she hadn’t died, is the one which they feel most shamed by – if Bea could see me now, she’d be so disappointed by what I have become. Bea’s zest for life and the feeling that while hers was cut short, theirs has been squandered, is the main driver for the events of the book.

It made want to do things, to shake off the fog of lethargy which seems to accompany me everywhere these days. It made me not want to compromise the things which are important to me, to draw more, to work on my writing, to read more and… to not spend my time at home dreading going to work, and my time at work wishing for home.

This is inspirational self-help dressed as a novel. This is teenage angst meets mid-life crisis. This should be on your TBR pile. Get it now, then start doing the things you always dreamed of.

Seed Loves You

Review: Seed, by Lisa Heathfield

To return to my roots of reviewing books which have been out for ages, I have just read Seed and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah cults. I actually thought this had only been out two months, and that I was *almost* on time, but no, alas, it was released April last year and I just didn’t have my glasses on. That would have been embarrassing.

I heard some buzz about Seed on Twitter, and I’ve never read anything about cults, but I’m interested in them because isn’t everybody!?

And what a cover.


Pearl has lived her whole life at Seed, a farm community run by the enigmatic Papa S. The group worship nature, as channelled through their leader, and live a life of idyllic simplicity, free from technology or modern distraction. Yet their peace is shattered at the arrival of Outsiders, Linda and her two children, Sophie and Ellis – the latter being an attractive young man who makes Pearl feel things that she doesn’t understand. As Pearl and Ellis grow closer, the bonds of the Seed community begin to unravel. Ellis dares to question Papa S’s authority, and Pearl begins to question what she has always believed..

The thing about life at Seed is that so much of it sounds absolutely lovely. You know, being as one with nature, growing and picking your own food, and this wonderful, close community filled with genuine love for one another… but then as you read on, you find that there’s also sexual abuse and drugging.

Papa S is a brilliant villain – like Snow from Hunger Games. I imagined him played by Donald Sutherland, actually, and suggest you do too! He has that calm authority, that manipulation, that unsettling attitude and an evil core. I’m a really big fan of a good villain. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t on his side, but the perfect manipulation and the way he was fuelled by his unshakeable belief in his own self, was masterfully done.

On the other hand our narrator and heroine, Pearl, is naive almost to the point of being irritating. When it came to the crimes Papa S committed, I wished her understanding of them had been more explicit, and that Heathfield had pushed it further. It felt, at times, like an 18 edited down to be a PG. The reader knows what happens to Papa S’s “companions”, we can see that Pearl’s friends are being sexually abused, but none of this touches Pearl. Her innocence is barely rippled.

I wanted so badly for her to be more questioning and less trusting, yet in truth she stayed resolutely true to character. It’s difficult to imagine having all my knowledge of modern life taken away from me. To imagine that all I know is told to me by one man, and that I would trust his word absolutely because I knew nothing else. Of course Pearl didn’t have a clue what was going on, she had grown up in a cult. Her innocence is frustrating, yes, but an unshakeable and defining part of her character.

For all that it felt a little tame, Seed was utterly compelling. I enjoyed it so much, but I wanted it to be more. I wanted there to be more. I want a sequel. A Seed-quel! (Sorry.)

Try Seed for yourself here.

3 Great Videos on Character Development

It’s been a while since I’ve worked on my Victorian Mortuary thing. I even started getting some words down a few weeks ago, but then I stalled. I tried drawing instead, but jacked in my 1-a-day Instagram pictures a few days ago. In short, I was depressed.

But I can’t blame that entirely. I’ve been struggling with getting going on this idea for a while, because I’m scared. This has been in my head for about 2 years, waiting to be worked on, and I absolutely love the concept and the possibilities – I’ve been raring to start… but now? I’m scared I won’t do it justice.

It’s easy not to do stuff in case you fail. And no, I’m not good enough to carry this out how I want to, which is *multimedia*. But I never will be, if I don’t try! So with that in mind, and in an effort not to be completely miserable all the time, I’ve been doing some refreshers on stuff I learned over the years about character development. I’ve got my main characters pretty much down in my head, but I want them on paper. Cue YouTube!

I really enjoyed this one. It’s always a pleasure watching people who are good at things doing them well, and this guy is just great. Very good if you only have a few character traits to start with. Just the sort of thing to make you want to start drawing, and it’s really interesting listening to him decide what features to move forward with and why.

Basics! I’d recommend drawing along with this one. If you know anything about proportioning faces this is a useful refresher and helps you think in 3-D. I drew along!

I just really like green ink. I don’t know why.

This one is good if you like watching people drawing. It’s bad if your bottom lip sticks out more than your top one from the side because apparently that’s odd and looks weirdAnyway, it’s extremely long so I put it off after the lip comment, but I’ll recommend it anyway because watching other people draw is really therapeutic. Perhaps put the sound off, though, if you too have a weird mouth.

There you have it, that’s how I’ve been spending my time. I’ve also been working on an acrylic painting which is going quite well considering I’ve never really used acrylic before. I feel like I’m remembering everything I used to be able to do now, which is nice. I’ve not felt like myself in a while, hopefully this will help me get back to normal.

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