My review: Leap the Wild Water – history up close and personal

I have just finished reading ‘Leap the Wild Water’ by Jenny Lloyd – a wrenching historical drama set in rural Wales in the early 19th century. Increasingly, I am finding Indie authors who have put together fine work – language, story, structure, research, background, etc. As a writer myself, I’m aware of the work that goes into achieving these high standards. I understand the difficulty when the excitement of the idea hits the cold white space of the page – and the double difficulty of doing this entirely on your own without a fleet of professional publishing people fussing around in the background. It takes guts to write and publish a book on your own – especially a book with the sweeping canvas and resonance of ‘Leap the Wild Water’.

It’s wonderful to see how imagination evokes such bold ambition. Not only does Ms Lloyd take us back in time, but she does so with a sense of realism and immediacy; she introduces us to people who seem as familiar as relatives staring out from old family photographs. Like ghosts in the room, we hear the crack of the fireplace, the sweep of a long skirt, the heated arguments of angry, passionate people. And we are swept into their story.

But the core of this book is its powerful social message – one that resonates as much today as the story of 200 years ago shocks us. While reading about Megan’s dilemma when she falls pregnant before marriage – and of the dire consequences that befall not only her but her family as well – I became aware of two things: the incredible double standards (a woman caught out was degraded and derided until sometimes suicide was her only option while a man was looked upon with veiled admiration and a touch of envy – he was ‘a bit of a lad’) and the fact that so much of this attitude is still rife across the world, still forcefully instituted in many countries with little outcry from those of us who like to feel we have moved on. It is not so much the excellent writing that so vividly connects us to the characters of 200 years ago, but the familiarity of Megan’s situation that shakes us.

Indie writers are increasingly presenting books of note, books with good writing and powerful effect. If you are a reader who enjoys substance and a strong story line then – whether you’re a history buff or not – ‘Leap the Wild Water’ should be on your list.

Find ‘Leap the Wild Water’ by Jenny Lloyd here

A Wink in Space

Many years ago I read “A Year of the Quiet Sun  – one year at Scott Base” (published 1968) by Adrian Hayter. It was about a year spent in Antarctica during a period when the sun flares are at their lowest ‘shrink’ so to speak. I can’t remember the book very well but I learned that the sun’s flares expand and shrink at a fairly regular pace, following a time pattern of around 11 years at a stretch. Not unexpectedly, this phenomenon affects our climate. In the flare years, there will be hotter temperatures, less rains, more droughts, etc. In the ‘lean’ years, things are cooler and more rainfall can be expected. Anyways, something along those lines (I’m talking about a book I read more than 40 years ago so please don’t get picky).

When it comes to such issues as global warming and climate change, we in Cape Town seem rather lucky in that not a lot really changes. However on Friday night we had something that I’ve never experienced before – and that is a black southeaster that brought torrential rains in from the south east with a ferocity that was frightening. In summer we have a regular (and often irritating wind) called the ‘Cape Doctor’. It blows up from the south east almost daily. Sometimes it drives a dark cloud over Table Mountain and then we call it a black southeaster. But these clouds, while they may spread a gloomy light, rarely bring much in the way of rain. So one is left puzzled by the aberration that blew in on Friday leaving widespread flooding and people sitting on the roofs of their houses.

One tends to jump so quickly to the conclusions of ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ – and many nod with satisfaction that their dire predictions have been vindicated. However, if I think about it, I remember all sorts of weather aberrations over my long life. Unfortunately for those who like to get heated up about this, I have a really good memory that goes back to my babyhood – and I remember when the weather was different and how it has changed and how much has stayed the same – and also how we had exactly these same ‘aberrations’ even way back then. I remember snow on the mountains in Ceres in December, I remember winters without rain and still nights that would drop to desert temperatures of 2C above freezing in Cape Town. In June it was never a surprise to have temperatures soar into the mid-twenties. I remember a couple of days in summer in the eighties when we wilted under 40C. And great, gusting storms coming in from the northwest any time from May to September.

It just seems to me that the more people talk about climate change, the more it seems to stay the same – by which I mean it’s never the same. The earth has cooled and warmed over millennia and many factors have caused this – many probably beyond what we really understand today. We’re a blue dot in an insignificant solar system, cartwheeling in a galaxy which takes approximately 200 million years to complete a rotation. Not only that, but the galaxy itself is travelling through space at something like 680 miles per second. And while we’re not sure where we’re going, we surely don’t know much about the detours and potholes that must await us along the way.

Great storms and weather changes have given us revised coastlines, great archeological treasures such as Skara Brae in the Orkneys and the wooden henge in The Wash, the legacy of the Vikings and memories not so long ago of snowfalls in Yorkshire in the 1920s that covered houses. Not to mention, of course, the ice ages (I put in a plural here because there were more than one). Possibly what we have to be grateful for, is that whatever brought about all this coming and going of the weather definitely contributed to our agile minds.

So was the rain on Friday the result of climate change or perhaps merely the contraction of a solar flare? It may not happen again for a hundred years. In 1824 there was a massive storm in Cape Town that drove all the ships in the bay onto Woodstock beach; the wrecks are still visible today. Nothing of that calibre has struck us since – but if one does, will we claim it to be the result of human efforts to self-destruct? Or will we look further out – beyond our myopic obsession with our own importance, and catch the wink in space…

Armistice Day – Remembrance Sunday

Malla Duncan:

Moving tribute to those fallen in The Great War. We need writing like this – truly lest we forget.

Originally posted on Stephen Liddell:

I am re-posting this article from last year as many of my reader won’t have seen it before and it is still one of the most viewed posts I have written.

Sunday sees the third, final and probably by far the most important in the triumvirate of special days in the UK autumn calendar, Armistice Day. Regular readers of my blog will know that I take an interest in visiting memorials around the country (and indeed the world) and Sunday will see the whole nation do likewise.

Never mind the empire, the recent wars on terror or even D-Day or The Battle Of Britain; you can only truly understand modern Britain if you are familiar with WW1.

Armistice Day or sometimes more commonly referred to as Remembrance Sunday or Poppy Day falls on 11th November each year to remember the war dead in the U.K.

The Queen laying the first wreath of poppies The Queen laying the first…

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Review: ‘Sebastian’ – a light on history

When I’d finished reading ‘Sebastian’ by Christoph Fischer, I was grateful for two things: that people still write about dark periods of our history with such quiet emotion, detail and research – and secondly that the sense of the era was so compellingly conveyed. I have always viewed WW1 in lightless photographs, and believed everything at that time was in monochrome.  But the author brings clarity to this colourless time by emphasizing the effects of war on the microcosm of the family in a way that is identifiable for the reader. We understand the time and events through people.

From the book cover in those deeply WW1 colours to the fact that Sebastian loses his leg as a child well before the war, prepares us for what is to come. Sebastian cannot go to war because he has lost a limb but thousands come back from the trenches without theirs. There was loose disintegration of the family before the war and mild insertion of prejudice – reflecting the imminent breakup of Europe and eventual outpouring of nationalism, racialism and religious intolerance. And Sebastian, wounded even before he could go to war, learns that being a man is not about killing but loving; about coping in the face of adversity and measuring up to responsibility.

Sebastian’s family – our little blueprint of human relationships and power struggles – perseveres through change, loss, love, squabbles and betrayal to find their own way to peace. War will never diminish us because the human spirit is at its most indomitable during times of trouble. Like Sebastian, we are enabled more by challenge than a comfortable life. In a story of war that is beautifully told with gentleness and empathy, we see that endurance is a matter of ordinariness – and war fails in the face of family and love.

Find ‘Sebastian’ by Christoph Fischer on Amazon


Writing review: “Candlepower” – the art of literature

I’ve just read with great enjoyment “Candlepower” by Janet Doolaege – a contemporary novel full of mystery and intrigue. Stella lives in a small apartment in Paris where – through the close-knit of modern living – she gets to know her neighbours Rose and the dark-eyed Olivier with whom she falls in love. Rose, a figure of strange powers it seems, has a curious connection with birds and a bizarre effect on anything electrical. This uneasy triangle of friendship, subtly threaded with an underlying tension and a sense of the paranormal, makes the ordinary and the everyday seem edgy, unpredictable and even a little dangerous.

And Ms Doolaege has the remarkable ability to make you think about these ordinary and everyday things in a different way. That is what literature is all about. The difference between a story – and a story that communicates something beyond the story. The term ‘literary” has nothing to do with high-brow intellectual waffle as so many believe – but rather reflects in the little gems Ms Doolaege has weaved delicately through the narrative.

There is Stella’s strained relationship with her family in England which translates into how we often perpetuate old hurts with the smallest nudge of memory. There is the nature of friendship: what does it mean to be a good friend? What does it mean to really care? There is the paranormal: what does it mean to be genuinely gifted with powers that other people don’t understand – the prejudice, the fear, the distrust an individual may have to bear for simply being different. There is also reflection on the impact of civilization on nature: how does the way we live affect other creatures who have equal claim to our spaces? And then there is romance – the raw truth between imagination and reality, and how we often misinterpret the feelings of others.

For those who would enjoy an original, well-paced and well-written mystery with an unexpected literary slant, “Candlepower” is definitely one to pick up.

Find ‘Candlepower’ on Amazon here:

Review: ‘Hereward’ The Last Englishman – history kicking butt

James Wilde has done a rollicking job with his first book in the Hereward series. With little consideration for our delicate sensibilities honed through fifty years of social indignation and political correctness, we are summarily dragged into the 11th century and our noses rubbed in the dirt.

Hereward is a complex man who is both brave and barbaric but threaded with glimmerings of the age of chivalry that was yet to come a century or two later. He is a man in his time and of his time – so we forgive some excesses in cruelty and aggression. He’s an honest chap who has been wronged and if he needs to slice, chop and mincemeat some enemy nasties, we’re in it with him – right there curling our toes with glee under the blood-dripping sword.

What we get in this rumbustious romantic saga of blood and battle, is an up close and personal view of this dark era in English history. Not much is known of this century or of Hereward and his fight for freedom against the Norman invaders of his land, but Wilde builds on what we do know and presents an authentic tale steeped in the sounds, scents and hardships of this time with a stark reality that has you cringing and gasping for more.

Wilde has created a hero who is both merciless and charming. His sword is his soul and his honour. He fights for justice in an era when there was none. And he dispatches his enemies with the unconstrained violence of his time. And we see in him much more of ourselves than we might like. These are our ancestors and our history and – even if we are horrified, disgusted and frightened by lives without law and order – the desire to pick up that sword and slash our way to justice alongside Hereward is a shadow rising on the dark side of our psyche that we can’t ignore.

That is the power of this excellently written and vividly told story. Highly recommended.

Review: ‘The Celtic Dagger’ – the making of mystery

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Celtic Dagger’ by Jill Paterson – a conventional detective whodunit murder mystery set in Australia where the author lives. I’m not a great fan of detective novels but I enjoyed this book for several reasons. The style of writing was clean and crisp, no waste of words or pointless conversations – everything was pertinent. The plot was carefully structured with some intriguing twists and turns along the way. I liked the characters – all appearing upright, decent citizens. Who among them could be a murderer? The plot development was well-thought out and there was just the right amount of witnesses and suspects. And for those who love a cosy mystery, minimal violence. It is a gentle book in this genre and I wouldn’t describe it as a thriller – and for that reason it may not appeal to those who prefer a renegade detective on the blood-splattered trail of a lunatic psychopath.

But for me what was most interesting from an analytical point of view, is that in creating this story, the author touched on all the key points of writing a mystery. I do think that mysteries are the most difficult genre because no matter how much information the writer gives away as the story progresses, there must always be that final card up the sleeve. This is done by what I call the ‘give but add’ plan: for every bit of new information the reader gleans, there must be an extra problem added. Thus the mystery deepens even though some knowledge has come to light. Characters come and go in the revolving doors of interviews and investigation. More is learned but the puzzle is greater. Suspicion hops from person to person.

Red herrings are one thing – but don’t waste the reader’s time with elements that ultimately have nothing to do with the murder – because that’s cheating. The mystery must genuinely involve everybody. Reasons must be unraveled in the context of the murder and may lead along many threads – but ultimately those threads must all tie up in a way that makes sense. And the writer has to control those threads with a steady hand. I often liken writing mysteries to driving a six-horse carriage over rocky terrain – you cannot let go for a second. One thread out of place leaves a flaw in the picture.

I think Jill Paterson has done a tidy job with ‘The Celtic Dagger’.

Find “The Celtic Dagger” on Amazon here