Stalky & Co: a review

 

I found my unabridged Penguin edition of Stalky & Co during a visit to a National Trust property for the princely sum of £1, and because it was a famous book written by Rudyard Kipling, I had to buy it.

The book is gem of historical children’s literature and should be digested carefully, because it isn’t an easy read for an adult, let alone a modern child. It was written during the latter years of Queen Victoria’s reign in the late 1890s, so the writing is typical of that era and there are a lot of characters, mainly referred to by their nicknames, to follow. The book focuses on the fortunes of Stalky (we don’t get to discover his real name) and his pals Beetle (said to be a loose autobiographical portrayal of Kipling himself) and M’Turk, who is Irish gentry (Stalky and Beetle try hard to cure him of his Irish brogue) and their constant battles with masters and prefects at the boarding-school they attend, a school grooming its pupils for future military service. Each chapter is referred to as a book: there are nine in all, and each have their own tale to tell, all with Stalky, Beetle and M’Turk at the centre. There is comedy to be found in the interaction between the boys and masters, flagrant flouting of the rules by smoking and drinking, but there’s also a dark side: graphic descriptions of bullying of younger boys, which Stalky & Co attempt to stamp out with their own justice, and a sense of sad times to come as the story predicts the deaths of some boys on future battlefields.

An enjoyable, but difficult read, not for the subject matter, but for the descriptive and linguistic content; but that’s a good excuse to read it more than once to get your head round what is happening in the story. It is surprising to find this book classified as a children’s book, considering its content.

A review for Episode!

Five stars on Amazon!

 

I have read all of Tracey Morait’s books and have greatly enjoyed every single one of them. And of course, this one is no exception. Tracey has a direct no-frills style of writing which she uses to good effect, allying it to quality narrative and very natural, very real dialogue from equally natural and believable characters. Here though, the lady has really excelled herself. The aforesaid qualities bring to the reader a fast-paced, highly engaging tale, taking in both modern family tensions, scenes from history and literature, deep friendship amid stress and strain, and all laced with a lightness and humour which delights the reader, well, it delighted me, I can only assume it will delight you.

Now, the story. This book is so hot off the press I cannot reveal much, so spoilers to be avoided at all costs, but let’s just cover the basics to give an idea of what’s what.

A family from Liverpool are on holiday in Cyprus – mum, dad – and two daughters, who, as can often be the case, do not get on with each other. One of the girls – Alisha, called Ali by those closest to her, has epilepsy. While her parents are sympathetic, as indeed they should be, her sister Sal resents Ali for not only getting more attention than her due to her illness, often sees family time whether holidays or at home, severely disrupted through Ali’s seizures. However, while in Cyprus, Ali discovers her seizures can open time portals; sometimes she is drawn into a portal involuntarily, but as the tale develops Ali finds she has an element of control and on occasions is highly relieved to be once again shooting through time and space.

Although there are brief sojourns through time and space to the Shetland’s main town of Lerwick as well as her home town of Liverpool, with of course short spells back to the ‘here and now’ of the family holiday in Cyprus, the main setting for the tale is ancient Sparta and the court, if that’s the right word, of Princess Helen, or, Helen of Troy as we know her better. Through Ali we become witnesses to many scenes we know and love through such revered tomes as the Iliad, and many other incidents which (and only reading this book can explain why, including an amazing turn of events involving future technology) never made the history books at all. All the famed characters: Helen, Paris, Hector, Menelaus, Agamemnon and more are there, some are prominent in the tale, others not so much. The gods and goddesses are there too, as they should be; Zeus and his boys and girls, each with their own special powers, each using these for good, or for bad, and sometimes both from the same deity. And that is all I can tell you.

Although the target age seems to be broadly older kids / YA, that don’t matter a jot, all, no matter if 10 or a 110, who enjoy fast-paced, light and humorous tales, will love this.

All in all, another cracking read from Tracy Morait.

So, who do I have to sleep with to get a book review?

Here we go again!

As you all know (zzzzz), I have a new book out; Episode was released on 30 September 2019, and one of the first things I worried about (apart from will anyone buy it?) was: will I get reviews?

It’s been four years since I last published, thanks to various family issues. My previous book, Goalden Sky, sold pretty well, but I struggled to get reviews for it, especially on Amazon. And before we all start berating the ethics of dear old Amazon.com/UK et al and how they don’t pay their taxes etc, let’s all, as indie authors, be brutally honest with ourselves and hold our hands up to the fact that it’s on Amazon where we want readers to leave reviews.

I got two reviews for Goalden Sky on Amazon.UK, one review on Amazon.ca, and I was really disappointed. My other books (even Abbie’s Rival, which didn’t sell as well) got more reviews. I couldn’t understand why.

I read somewhere that readers won’t leave reviews if they don’t like a book. OK. So maybe Goalden Sky was pants, then? Not according to the various reviews I got elsewhere – some of which, I have to admit I paid for, but they weren’t negative by any means and I was warned that good reviews were by no means guaranteed. Not that I mind negative reviews. I got one negative review for Big Brother (I think the reader thought they were buying another title, and I was pleased by the fact they thought it too violent – the intention!) The point is he took the time to write the review.

Then I wondered if traditional publishers do their marketing and review begging much better than indie authors. Probably, but they have the financial means to dole out for massive publicity. Indies don’t. We work on a budget. With Episode I’ve pushed the boat out a bit more and I’m nervous at the outcome. One thing I have noticed is that the number of free book publicity sites have dwindled a great deal. Some of the sites I used in the past have either gone completely or now charge an extortionate amount for advertising or reviews. Well, in these days of austerity, you can’t blame them, but as per usual, most of the sites are in the US. There are few review sites, paid or not, in the UK. Why? God knows.

While researching answers to some of my questions above, I found this fantastic article where the author conducted a survey. Read it and weep!

https://www.matejaklaric.com/blog/why-is-it-so-hard-to-get-book-reviews-from-real-readers

Seriously! Read the comments about not leaving reviews if they think the book is bad. Doesn’t give you much confidence, does it? You can accept that not everyone will like your book – one man’s meat as I always say – but how can you improve if people can’t bring themselves to be at least critical and constructive?  A book review is not the monopoly of the elite critic. I’ve written a few book reviews myself and I wouldn’t say they were professionally written. Sometimes they’ve been rushed and not entirely well-constructed  (shocking admission), but at least I’ve made the effort.

Read the article how Amazon’s review policies can be an obstacle, too. Yeah, trust Amazon!

It seems most people don’t know what to say in a review. Well, come on, mate, does it have to be a flippin’ essay? Does it have to be the first draft of War and Peace? No. Here’s a reminder of the review for Goalden Sky on Amazon.ca. One word. That’ll do! Had he thought it was crap, he’d’ve had to tone down his words somewhat, but still. I have a one-time reviewer, Shalini, who I know from our mutual love of Liverpool FC. We’ve never met, but she makes wonderful jewellery I’ve bought on many occasions. She’s reads all my books and if she doesn’t like what she reads, she’ll say! She was so confused by Big Brother she gave me a measly 3/5!  I was like ‘Yer what?’, but I respected her review and was grateful for her time.

So readers, if you took the time to read it, and you liked it, say! If you didn’t like it, say! Yeah, a negative review* is uncomfortable for the author, but it’s valid and maybe just maybe, another reader might think, ‘Hmm…OK, but I’ll make my own judgement, ta very much.’

Only keep the language clean when you’re slagging the book off, eh?

*Trolls who post things like, ‘This is crap because I didn’t get the book in time’ will be shot.

Episode is now available to buy! But…

 

The good news! You can now buy my new book Episode on Amazon UK for £5.99, at other Amazons, and  bookshops worldwide. It’s also available on Kindle for 99 p and equivalent in the US, Canada, Europe etc.

The bad news…

When I first add a copy of my books to Kindle, I always download them to check they read OK on my Kindle reader. Episode does, but when I was swiping through the chapters tonight, what did I see at the beginning of Chapter 18? A flippin’ grammatical typo! How annoying is that! I just didn’t spot it before! Small, perhaps easily overlooked, but irritating just the same!

So what do you do in that instance?

Ignore it. OK. Walk away. Maybe no one else will spot it.

Change it. The readers might not see the error, but you have. It will haunt you. Bloody hell! You’ve sent copies of your file for review as well! Damn and blast it!

The problem is not only have I had to reupload the Kindle edition I’ve had to change the paperback file as well because otherwise there’s no consistency, and so I’ve had to buy another bloody proof before approving it for redistribution.The proof copies take days to arrive! In the meantime,  someone might buy the old edition and I might get slammed for being slapdash.

Anyway, Episode is now available to buy…here’s the blurb…

Alisha Dainton has severe epilepsy, so she’s used to having seizures. Sometimes she even has weird visions and hears strange noises. After a particularly bad episode on holiday in Cyprus, what she sees and hears makes her think she s going mad: who is the beautiful girl with the see-through eyes, multi-coloured hair and rainbow and the half-woman, half-bird creature singing by the hotel pool, and just why has she been chosen to go back in time to ancient Sparta to help save a princess called Helen? Either Ali is having some sort of bizarre dream, or she’s about to have an amazing adventure that might change the entire story of the Trojan War.

 

 

 

 

How to get over a catfish scam: turn it into a book

The plot outline

  • You’re an indie author and you read an article on how Instagram can work for you for promotion, so you sign up
  • As soon as you’re online, you’re inundated with direct messages from men and women, all saying ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’, to which you think, ‘Weird!’ so you don’t reply. You find out (much later) that when a new user signs up, Instagram invites people to engage with you to build up your followers
  • One user is particularly persistent and follows you. His profile picture shows a good-looking bloke with a beard and for a brief moment you think, ‘Aye-aye!’ But you are in fact happily married woman and you don’t know what this geezer wants, so you don’t say ‘Hi’ back, even though you’ve followed him back. You’re an ignoramus and ignored your own rule (if you don’t know their interests don’t follow back). It’s important you build up followers, though. His account was private, but you can see his photos now he’s accepted your follow.

The good-looking bloke with a beard

  • Meanwhile, some unfortunate crap is going on in your life. You’re depressed. You still haven’t got over the estrangement from your family after the death of your mum and you are prone to stress, which is causing problems at work. You’ve self-referred yourself to local mental wellbeing services and you attend a stress management course. They’re going to put you on an improving low self-esteem course, too. Self-esteem has always been a problem for you because you don’t have any
  • At work, you’ve been kicked in the teeth by your employers who have informed you that the job they wanted you to apply for isn’t happening now because of the admin review; you have to leave at the end of February. This severely pisses you off and doesn’t improve your low mood. On Instagram, you post a harmless picture of yourself and the bloke with the beard likes it and posts the word, ‘Jello.’ Eh? You know that’s the American word for ‘jelly’. Is he saying you wobble? He clarifies it with the word, ‘Cute.’ Alarm bells should be ringing, but they don’t. You hate the world, so when he DMs you again you respond. You need a distraction, a new friend, a pen-pal
  • He tells you he’s from Austin, Texas. How interesting. You’ve never been to the US and don’t know anything about Americans, other than what you’ve seen on the telly. He’s a widower with a young daughter; she lives in California with his mum. What a shame. His wife died in a car crash and he was driving. She died in his arms. How sad. His daughter has an Instagram account, too. His princess, his Angela Chris, a potential new reader of your books, but you’re wondering how wise it is for him to have an Instagram account for his 11-year-old daughter.

That’s not her real name and this account is still live

  • He tells you you’re beautiful. You insist you’re not, but you’re flattered and it’s music to your ears. You have low self-esteem and when was the last time you had a compliment like that, even from your husband? You can’t remember.
  • You pride yourself on being savvy and streetwise, and not easily taken in by anything, but right now YOU’RE BEING SUCKED IN AND YOU DON’T EVEN REALISE IT!
  • He keeps telling you he’s in love with you, calls you his Queen. You keep reminding him you’re married, but you feel sorry for him, so you play along and anyway, he’s entertaining you. In your head, it’s harmless; you’re never going to meet him and he’s a lot younger than you are. He’s asking you for money. His daughter isn’t speaking to him because he won’t buy her a set of headphones; she has appendicitis and needs an operation; he wants to come over to the UK and meet you; he has an enlarged heart and needs money for drugs. He’s pulling at your heart strings. He’s sending you photos of himself and his daughter, you’re sending him photos of you. You keep trying to walk away, but he keeps begging you not to go. What would he do without you yada yada yada…
  • After two months, you’ve had enough of the constant begging for money. As good-looking as he is, he’s a bit of a dickhead and getting on your three penny bits. You know too late you’ve been a prime idiot, but by now you’re up for a fight. He’s sent a photo of himself and his daughter with the name of a martial arts company on their sweatshirts. You Google them: they’re in New Jersey. You challenge him about this, but he insists that picture was taken in a diner in Austin and he’s never been to New Jersey.

Busted!

  • You do some research. The Instagram romance scam is rife and you never knew. Men  and women all over the world are being taken in. The military scam is the most common of all. There’s a blog that’s been going for years and makes very interesting reading

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2015/07/faking-it-scammers-tricks-steal-your-heart-and-money?page=2

  • You call your Instagram friend a liar and a scammer. He denies it, is upset you could think so, but he’s panicking now. He knows he’s losing you, so he turns the screw: if you don’t send money via Bitcoin for his heart op, he’ll blackmail you. You’ve been waiting for this. Bring it on! You tell him you’ve called the police. Fact. You also tell him you’ll make him sorry. Too right! That’s the last thing you ever say to him and oh boy are you determined to make him pay! His profile picture on the DM has gone; he’s a faceless user now. He’s followed all your IG users and will send pictures of you to them, as well as some of the silly chat. He uploads a couple of pictures and tags them, but you don’t bite. He takes them down straightaway and you report him to Instagram. You sit there watching him on DM telling you he’s sorry, please can he have one last picture of you? Sod off, you think. You’re dead meat, pal!
  • Instagram take down his account, the police come, an investigation reveals he was operating from the US. Meanwhile, you do a bit of detective work of your own: you identify who the photos belong to because of the picture of him and his daughter with the name of that martial arts company on the sweatshirts. They have an Instagram account, so you check their followers. Bingo! There’s my catfish, a naff car salesman from New Jersey with a business account, a bit of a Big I Am, using a younger image of himself as a profile picture. What a narcissist. Fancies himself. He doesn’t look like that now, he’s put on a bit of beef. Obviously trying to impress. You know he has a hot Chinese girlfriend; how did he manage that? You have his name, too, and you discover the real name of his daughter. Probably not the culprit, an innocent bystander, but it helps to hate him. Makes you feel better. You bet if it’s not him, he knows something about it
  • You check his followers and what do you see? Your scammer’s profile picture staring at you, a private account (hello, hello, hello!) with a different name, his real surname, no interests listed, just an American and Irish flag (bugger, you’re part-Irish, too! Something in common with the big-headed melt!)
  • You start stalking. He’s also on Facebook, a public profile, so you check out the photos. Some of them he sent to you, but not all. You deduce that whoever harvested his pictures took them from the private IG account, which you don’t follow, of course, so you DM him to warn him. What does he do? He blocks you. There’s gratitude for yer! Undeterred, you get his email address from his business IG account and email him with the evidence, but he doesn’t reply. You feel uncomfortable that his daughter’s photos were used, so you ask the police to email him, too. They do. He still doesn’t reply. Does he think you’re a crank, or does he have something to hide? Remember it’s a private account, a feature of a catfish! Who knows. You don’t take any chances: you block him on ALL social media, even Twitter.
  • You’ve learnt your lesson: no matter who DMs you on any social media platform, even if you’re quite well acquainted with them or know them, you don’t reply, you just press Delete. That’s sad, but you can’t take chances any more. If you get a message request by some balloon head who wants to say, ‘Hi’ you decline the message.

ALL OF THE ABOVE HAPPENED TO ME THIS YEAR! DON’T LET IT HAPPEN TO YOU!

It appears many successful romantic relationships have been formed via Instagram. Bully for you if this is true, but the place is full of arseholes like him who are preying on vulnerable people. If you’re looking for love go out and meet someone, DON’T DO IT ONLINE!

Signs to look out for and how to act:

  1. The Instagram catfishers generally have accounts that are private (as previously mentioned), with no interests listed, or are public profiles with very few photos uploaded
  2. If they engage with you and you engage back, they’ll tell you a sob story. Their cat was shot by a dog, or they fell down the stairs and got hit by a car when they reached the bottom. You’ll get the gist
  3. They can’t spell. Well, I mean, we all know Americans can’t spell, but honestly, the catfish really cannot spell. A catfish is illiterate and thick with it
  4. If they ask for money IGNORE THEM, WALK AWAY AND BLOCK THEM, EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU’RE PASSIONATELY IN LOVE! (You can’t love someone you haven’t met, you know…)
  5. If for any reason you’re sucked in and you get blackmailed CALL THE POLICE! DON’T BE EMBARRASSED OR ASHAMED! They won’t judge and they’re on your side. They told me the more people who report this sort of thing the more they can work with agencies to crack down on it. Instagram will work with them, although it may take some time
  6. The victim is not at fault, but ONLY the victim has the power to prevent it. You are in control, not them! They’re the losers, not you!

DON’T LET THEM WIN!

I haven’t. It’s inspired the plot of my next book, a young adult crime fiction story.

 

Women and Children First: a review

Gill Paul’s take on the tragic story of the ill-fated Titanic, which floundered in the Atlantic after hitting an iceberg on April 14 1912, is very hard to put down. It follows the fortunes of four people: White Star Line steward Reg Parton, who serves customers in First Class, and three passengers: Annie McGeown, an Irish woman travelling third class with her children to join her husband in New York, in search of a better life; Lady Juliette Mason-Parker, unmarried and pregnant by a married man, fleeing British society, accompanied by her ashamed mother, to avoid a scandal; and George Grayling, an American billionaire, unhappy in marriage to his wife Margaret, Reg’s favourite passenger, and who appears to be having an affair with a much younger English woman Reg encounters one evening on deck before the ship sinks.

The tragedy carves out the fortunes of the four survivors once they reach their new world: Reg loses his best mate John and is forced (by mistake, but then out of fear for his own safety and even sanity) to assume John’s identity while trying to forge out a new life for himself as a waiter in an exclusive restaurant; Annie loses her eldest son in the sinking and has to face a life without him as she joins her husband in the new land with her remaining children, discovering a dubious talent for second sight in the process of her adjustment to American life; Lady Juliette meets and falls in love with a man who will make her happy – but what of her unborn child? – and George Grayling gives Reg a job that might well lead to that young man’s undoing.

Women and Children First is an easy read and the characters are well formed. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book, hug Reg and tell him everything was going to be OK. The drama of the sinking as it happened in real life seems to speak through his suffering, the trauma he felt and his anguish in the aftermath. Annie has suffered the loss of her son, but she has the rest of her family as consolation; Lady Juliette still has her mother, her baby and a future life with a new man; George Grayling cares more about his money and his mistress and doesn’t miss his dead wife who drowned in the tragedy. Reg seems to suffer the most: he only has the memory of the girl he left in Southampton, the guilt of taking John’s identity and the fear of sailing back home; although he has some luck in New York, he’s a broken man and faces more drama when he’s employed by George Grayling.

The book has real-life photos and reportage of the survivors following the sinking and adds poignancy to the story. A gripping read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Episode’ now due for release in September 2019

It sucks, but I don’t have a choice: I’ve had to extend the publication date! 🙄 Episode will now (hopefully!) be released in September 2019.

It’s taken longer than I expected to get the book right, the way I want it. The fact is, I’m never completely satisfied with the finished product. Then I have to get another proof and that takes a piggin’ age to turn up! And of course I did the usual: I went on holiday. It all adds up to time, time, time! I have a new day job, too, which is making me a bit stressed out, so I can’t commit all the hours I want to my writing.

I have another book in the pipeline I’ve started in the meantime, but I can never focus fully on a new project until I know the previous one is all sorted. Plus I have to market that one, oh, joy of joys! My favourite part of the process! Not!

But I’ll get there. I’ll just have to suck it up for now. 😒

 

 

 

 

 

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