‘I was very honoured some months ago to be asked by friend and fellow blogger, Sacha Black, to beta-read her new book, ‘13 Steps to Evil: How to Craft Superbad Villains’.
Well, I almost cried when I read it because I realised just how bad my villains are… and I don’t mean that in a super-bad good way, if you know what I mean!
Like most other authors, I had concentrated on my hero and was all loved-up with my brave, magical, flawed CK. The baddy, by comparison, now seems shallow and unconvincing.
How I wish this book had been available before I started to write my first book! Sigh. However, all is not lost… I have learned a lot, which I will be using in my future novels. And if you are a first -time author about to release your beautiful book-baby into the big bad world, go and grab yourself a copy of Sacha’s book quickly, and read it cover-to-cover (virtually, if its on Kindle) before you press that big ‘P’ button.
So, what’s it all about, and why’s it so special? Quite honestly, there isn’t a really good, comprehensive book on baddies out there. Until now.
Black takes us into territory I had never previously considered when it comes to creating literary villains, starting with this statement:
‘The hero is NOT the most important character in your novel. Your villain is.’
Huh? That can’t be right! But it’s true, and forty thousand words later, you will have a clear understanding why.
We all love to hate villains. It’s their evil, dastardly plans that have us rooting for a story’s hero, not how good–looking and manly the hero is, or how beautiful and kick–ass the heroine is.
In her book ‘13 Steps to Evil’, the author shows us exactly how to manage this process, from creating villainous traits and motivations, to an in–depth analysis of the villain’s mental health, and how to make his villainy authentic and believable.
She also makes a couple of very useful side–trips along the way into clichés and tropes, creating conflict and climax, and how to write fear.
Through it all, there is a hefty sprinkling of examples of popular and lesser–known villains from the literary and movie worlds, as well as from history, to highlight her points. Add in Black’s unique mix of humour and metaphor, and we have a highly entertaining and informative read.
My favourite chapters were the ones on anti–heroes and antagonists, and personality traits.
Black writes from a background in Psychology and Cognitive Neuropsychology, so she knows her stuff. All writers should have this book in their arsenal of writing tools. It’s a future classic!
Last weekend, I hiked part of the Burren Trail with my friend, walking buddy and guide, Jenni. The Burren is an expanse of karst landscape located in Co Clare, stretching some 250 km between the villages of Ballyvaghan, Kinvara, Tubber, Corofin and Lisdoonvarna. Its name derives from the Irish Boireann, meaning ‘great rock’, or ‘stony place’.
The unique rocky lunar-like appearance of the Burren is due to it being composed of huge limestone pavements gouged by the last ice age. Over time, fissures and cracks have formed along lines of weakness, and these are called ‘grikes’. The slabs between grikes are known as ‘clints’.
Burren karst limestone landscape
Jenni advised me not to step on any patches of greenery; although they look solid, they often disguise grikes, which can be quite deep, causing the unsuspecting walker to fall and sustain injuries. I did get caught out by one or two, too busy applying my eyes to the view or fumbling with my camera, instead of concentrating on my feet.
Not surprisingly, the Burren is home to over 90 megalithic tombs, cairns, ring forts and portal dolmens, including the famous Poulnabrone. Many of these are quite tumbled, and in a wide open vista of tumbled stone, hard to identify.
In ancient times, the Burren was the home of the Corco Modhruadh tribe; the name meant ‘seed or people of Modhruadh’. At some point during the C12th, the territory was divided in two: Corco Modhruadh Iartharach (Corcomroe West), which was ruled by the Ó Conchubhair clan, and Corco Modhruadh Oirthearach (Corcomroe East), ruled by the Ó Lochlainn clan.
On the first day, we walked from the beach at Fanore to the sleepy town of Ballyvaughan via the Blackhead, Gleninagh pass and Newton Castle. Unsurprisingly, legends abound. According to myth, the Blackhead was home to a Fir Bolg chieftain by the name of Irghus (pronounced Eer-ish).
Tourist bus stopping to let people walk on the karst by the sea
View of beach from the hills
The Wild Atlantic Way
Gleninagh Castle viewed from the Black Head.
Blackhead was also said to be haunted by a banshee known as Bronach the Sorrowful. In the August of 1317, she appeared to Prince Donchad O’Brien, who was leading an army against his enemy, who were sheltering in the old abbey at Corcomroe. She wasn’t pretty;
“She was thatched with elf locks, foxy grey and rough like heather, matted and like long sea-wrack, a bossy, wrinkled, ulcerated brow, the hairs of her eyebrows like fish hooks; bleared, watery eyes peered with malignant fire between red inflamed lids; she had a great blue nose, flattened and wide, livid lips, and a stubbly beard.”
She was washing limbs and decapitated heads in Lough Rask until the lake turned red with ‘blood, brains and floating hair’, and foretold that this would be the fate of Donchad and his men. They attempted to kill her, but she rose up screaming into the air and disappeared. Sure enough, they lost the battle, and by sunset that day, they were all dead.
In the legend of Bóthar na Mias, Colman, a monk, and brother to King Gaire the Hospitable of Hy Fiachrach Aidhne, now known as Gort, disappeared into the wilderness of the Burren to fast and pray. After the deprivations of Lent, his companion longed for a meat feast, so Colman turned to the power of prayer, and his wishes were answered.
King Gaire was just sitting down with his court to a grand Easter feast, when all the dishes suddenly flew up into the air and floated out of the castle. Gaire sent his warriors in hot pursuit, and they followed the food all the way to Colman’s hermitage.
Terrified by the sudden appearance of his brother’s fierce warriors, Colman prayed for deliverance, and he was answered; the feet of the men and the hooves of their horses stuck fast to the ground. The route from Gort into the Burren was known ever after as the Bóthar na Mias, or the ‘road of dishes’.
Pretty and refreshing waterfall crossing our path
Precarious and slippery rope bridge crossing the waterfall
Characteristic lacy stone wall full of holes to let the wind through so it doesnt blow down
Closer view of typical stone wall, well weathered
On the second day, we took the Wood Loop, via Tonarussa, through the coll between Moneen and Ailwee hills, down to Oughtmama valley, St Colman’s holy well, up Turlough Hill, finishing at Corcomroe Abbey.
We came across this Cillín, a graveyard for unbaptised children
It was a beautiful, peaceful, shady spot
Crystal clear sun dappled stream, a lovely place to linger.
In Irish, Ucht Mama (Oughtmama) means ‘the breast of the high pass’. Three tiny churches were built here, now in ruins and shielded by hazel trees, and nearby is a holy well dedicated to St Colman.
Karst giving way to fertile valley
I visited St Colman’s Holy Well in the Burren last summer.
Turlough Hill is crowned with a huge, mysterious and enigmatic prehistoric circular enclosure which has archaeologists scratching their heads in puzzlement. It’s huge, with the remains of 160 circular dwellings. Life here would have been bleak and windswept; there was no running water, no grazing for livestock, or land for farming crops. The huge stone wall contained as many as 10 entrances, which is unusual and indicates it was not built for protection. Who chose to live here, and why? It’s a mystery.
Blue gentian was everywhere. Image (c)Jenni Bardi
The barren surface of the Burren is interspersed with areas of verdant foliage which lie scattered over the stone like bright rugs. These are spotted with blue spring gentian, an alpine flower; purple orchids, bloody cranesbill, and lots of others we couldn’t identify. The colours really popped against the stone. Who would have thought such a bleak wilderness could produce so many beautiful, vibrant and delicate flowers?
View from the top.
View from the top.
Long narrow enclosure. What was it for?
Following the crumbled wall of the enclosure (right). top of Turlough Hiill.
We didn’t see any wild goats, although we saw the evidence they left behind, if you get my drift. Nor did we see pine-martens, but we did see many small birds, and heard lots of cuckoos. In fact, we were treated to the aerobatic spectacle of a cuckoo being chased from a nest by two very determined and much smaller parent birds, something I doubt I’ll ever be lucky enough to see again.
We ate wild garlic, trudged through mud, scrambled up rocky ledges, splashed across waterfalls, meandered through hazel forest, and off-roaded across karst. We admired dramatic coastal scenes, rested beside holy wells, followed in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors in the places they built and lived. We carried everything we needed on our backs, and gloried in rare and consistent sunshine.
Serenity and solitude
Full moon on my birthday
The Burren is only a small corner of Ireland, but as we traversed its breadth, we felt like ants in its vastness. We hardly saw a soul, and it felt wild and powerful and ancient, almost untouched by man in places. We embraced and admired and respected it; in return it allowed us safe passage, and for that brief space in time, yielded up its secrets and beauty.
Still to come…
St Colman’s Holy Well Corcomroe Abbey Newtown Castle Gleninagh Castle
So I read this book last week. It’s called Abomination and its written by author and blogger Jane Dougherty. Now, before I go any further, you need to know something; we may never have met in the flesh, but Jane and I are friends. Gasp! I know, how can that be? Even worse, we actually wrote a book together. So of course I’m going to be fawning all over her new offering, right?
Wrong. I do my best to write my reviews with integrity and honesty.
I may be an author who is friendly with other authors, but despite this fact, and in spite of what Amazon thinks, it is still possible to write a review honestly and truthfully.
Now the likelihood is, because I know the author, and we have read each others books, and even co-authored a book, there is a good chance that we might actually genuinely enjoy each other’s writing and style.
Amazon doesn’t think this is possible. So I will have to think carefully about whether I post a review there and risk getting banned. Maybe I will just be a rebel and do it anyway.
In any case, this is my blog where I can write what I like, and frequently do. So, enough waffling, I have stated my case, lets get on with the show. Or the review, at least.
Abomination is the first in a series called The Pathfinders. This book is published by Finch Books and is currently available as an Early Download at €6.08 in their online book store. It goes on general release on March 22nd 2016.
I had to laugh when I visited its book page; it comes with the following warning;
“Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of physical abuse, sexual slavery and violence and references to child murder.”
I can’t imagine anything which would please Jane more! It may put parents off, but every teenager in town is going to want to read it now!
Ok. It hardly sounds like a book for Young Adults, I’m sure you’re thinking, but relax; Jane knows what she’s doing. You can’t wrap young people up in cotton wool and pretend we’re living in fairyland. These are real issues going on in the world all around us, and our young people need to be made aware, not made vulnerable and ignorant by hiding the truth from them.
Having said that, whilst Jane doesn’t pull any punches, she knows where to draw the line. She is a mother of teenagers herself, and so am I. There is nothing in this book I wouldn’t want my fourteen year old son to see, and he will tell you I’m pretty strict on age limits for books, games and movies!
So what’s it about? Here’s some of the blurb;
“As the end of the world begins, Carla and Tully hurtle through a wormhole five years forward in time, only to find they haven’t missed the Apocalypse after all.
“Carla and Tully are picnicking in the quad of their international high school in central Paris when the end of the world begins. They are sucked into a wormhole that spits them out five years later to find that the world is a freezing desolation but still hanging on, waiting for something even worse to finish it off. The something worse turns out to be the Burnt Man and his horsemen. Taken prisoner by the Flay Tribe to their lair in the ruins of a shopping mall, Tully is forced to become a warrior, while Carla joins the other girls as a kitchen slave and comfort woman.”
I’m not giving you any more. Go check it out and get yourselves a download whilst you’re at it, that’s your best bet.
This book reminded me of Lord of the Flies; it had that same sinister atmosphere. It’s unnerving to see how brutal our sweet, precious children can become when left to their own devices in a deadly game of survival.
But as violent and aggressive as they are, there’s someone out there who’s even more terrifying, even more savage, and who ultimately holds all the cards. Daily life brings the ever more urgent search for food as supplies dwindle; attack from mutant creatures which lurk in the shadows, always looking to feast on tender human flesh; and the ever-present danger of gang warfare with the other ‘tribes’ prowling beyond their defences.
In Tully and Carla, the author presents an alternative way forward, in which rationality, strength, determination and compassion can prevail. If they get the chance. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not perfect heroes; they’re real human beings that every reader will be able to identify with. They have their own particular character flaws, they make mistakes, but they are resourceful and learn to deal with them.
Some of the characters are pretty nasty. We’ve all met bullies like them. My only gripe with the book concerns one of them; Flo, madam and supervisor of the girls, a thoroughly vile piece of work, holds great potential as a villain, yet just as she gets going with her dastardly plan, she is killed off. Personally, I would have liked to see how the story could have developed under her influence.
This book may be for young people, but it does not come with a happy ever after. Although it stands alone as a complete story in itself, the ending makes it clear that there is more, much more to come, and I for one am tagging along for the ride down that next wormhole.
This is the cover for Craig Boyack’s new book… isn’t it fab? It just screams “Pick me up and read me!”. I love it. It has an air of mysticism and magic about it, as if Dumbledore and Gandalf may once have opened its ancient covers and learned their magic from its precious dusty parchment.
And magic it is, too. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advance copy, and couldn’t put it down. Mind you, I have been a fan of Craig’s since I read Panama, and each book he has produced since then has got progressively better and better. I particularly enjoyed his last book, Will o’ the Wisp (you can read my review here).
But this one is just a little bit different to all that has gone before, because it contains a collection of his best short stories. How can I describe a Craig Boyack short story? Eclectic, whimsical, unexpected, magical, weird, unique and out of the ordinary. When it comes to his writing, Craig certainly thinks outside of the box.
Chock-full of an entertaining mix of twelve short stories and flash pieces, this book is a gripping read, and great value for money at 99c. Here are my faves;
It begins with Jack o’ Lantern, a Hallowe’en Flash piece with a very surprising ending. This is followed by Something in the Water, a tale with a classic ghost story feel, and which contains a thrilling aerial dog fight, btw. Bombshell Squad features the very luscious robo-girl, Lisa Burton, a character from Craig’s first book; I really loved the detail and sumptuous descriptions in this piece. My next fave was Diplomat, a dragon tale with a fantastic sting in the tail. The Soup Ladle of Destiny is a true fairytale reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm, and can be enjoyed whatever your age. 50 Gallon Drum is another flash piece with a lovely atmosphere and a stunning twist in the last sentence. A Tale of Rebirth is an upcycled version of the classic genie in the lamp story with a genius finish which I just didn’t see coming. Finally, Transference is a wacky tale in which the author makes a cameo appearance. What am I talking about? He’s the star of the show!
I am very pleased to be reviewing books for Children’s Books Ireland and Inis Magazine. CBI is the national children’s books organisation of Ireland. Through their many activities and events they aim to engage young people with books, foster a greater understanding of the importance of books for young people and act as a core resource for those with an interest in books for children in Ireland.
Children’s Books Ireland publishes Inis magazine three times in the year. Each issue contains a rich array of children’s literature articles and features, as well as in depth reviews of new titles for children and teenagers. This is my first book review for them. You can see it here.
Following the recent unexpected death of her father, Rose travels to Ypres in Belgium with her Grandpa to visit the graves of the fallen soldiers of the First World War. There, she finds herself mysteriously transported back in time, where she meets fifteen-year-old soldier, Joe.
Stevens vividly recreates the atmosphere of the war, whilst shielding younger readers from its more gruesome details. Her characters are engaging, from Grandpa with his comical and mildly annoying habits, to grieving Rose, who is struggling to come to terms with her bereavement, to the plucky and loveable character of Valentine Joe himself.
After a gentle start, the pace of the story picks up, the sights and sounds of the city of Ypres, past and present, propelling us along in the wake of our heroine, lending authenticity to her adventures.
A month before his sixteenth birthday, on the morning of his death, we find ourselves in the trench alongside Joe and Rose. Whilst Rose professes her sorrow and despair throughout the story, I didn’t really feel it, and it seems to me a missed opportunity which distinguishes a good book from a great one.
Having said that, the author does an excellent job of highlighting the shocking issue of the boy soldiers, and effectively brings the atrocities of war to life.
With its clear, simple language, its teen love theme, and its young female hero, this book is ideally aimed at girls.
I am currently reading ‘The High Hills’ by Jill Barklem, and ‘FishOut of Water’ by Natalie Whipple. My reviews must be submitted by 9th April.
When blogger friend and author Craig Boyack put out on his blog that he was looking for ARC readers for his new book, Will o’ the Wisp, I jumped at the chance. I have read several of his books now, Panama, Arson and The Cock of the South, and enjoyed them all immensely. I was intrigued by some of the hints he had given on his blog during his writing journey, not least, how the hell was this hairy man of a certain age, who had nurtured a sourdough starter named Tituba for thirty odd years, going to get inside the head of a teenage girl?
Will o’ the Wisp is a paranormal YA novel set in mid seventies rural America and centres on a fifteen year old girl, Patty, and her slightly eccentric and dysfunctional family. I immediately sided with Patty; not only is she strong, and funny and clever, but she has to wear leg braces, which are the bane of her life. I identified with this, because my daughter wears them too.
The braces lead to exclusion and bullying in school and social life, and understandably, Patty freezes everyone out, allowing only two trusted confidantes across the barrier. On top of her emerging awareness as an adult, she shares a particularly complex relationship with her mother, which is hard to understand, or condone at times, but which adds an extra dimension of reality to the story. It is no wonder Patty seeks escapism in the stars, space and science-fiction.
However, a chance encounter with a phenomenon known as the Will o’ the Wisp leads to a frightening discovery about the fate of her own family, something only she can change.
Patty’s challenges with regard to her leg braces, her relationship with her mother, the highs and lows of her friendships and teenage life in general wind their cunning sub plots deliciously through the main thrust of the story.
In my view, this is Boyack’s best yet, his piece de resistance! All his characters are strong and well defined, but Craig has excelled in stepping into Patty’s shoes; he has produced a most convincing teen, likeable one minute, and annoying the next, a self-reliant, independent and free-thinking child of the seventies, an era which he has expertly and admirably reproduced in this story, and which is certain to bring back many memories for many readers.
Although this story is classified as YA, I recommend it to anyone who is still young at heart (or who can at least still remember how being young felt).
Next Tuesday is St Patrick’s Day, and in celebration of all things Irish, author Jane Dougherty and I will be giving away FREE copies of our book, Grá mo Chroí, ‘Love of my Heart’, Love Stories from Irish Myth.
Grá mo Chroí will be FREE for three days only from Monday 16th March until Wednesday 18th March, and you can get your free copy from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Happy Reading, and may the luck o’ the Irish be with you this Paddy’s Day!