Today’s Art (28th February 2019)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting is based on this photo I took of a bridge in Langstone Harbour last March.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Langstone Harbour – Bridge” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – February 2019

Well, it’s the end of the month. So, I thought that I’d do my usual thing of collecting links to my ten favourite articles about writing, making art, making comics etc… that I’ve posted here during the past month. Plus, a couple of honourable mentions too.

Although, due to the shortness of the month, being busy writing some of the short stories that appeared here last March (amongst other things) and the fact that reviews (11 book reviews and 2 “Doom II” WAD reviews) appeared here every other day, there weren’t quite as many traditional articles posted here this month. But, I quite like how many of them turned out 🙂

In terms of the book reviews – the best books I reviewed this month are probably: “Snow Crash” By Neal Stephenson,”Turtle Moon” by Alice Hoffman , “Empire Of Salt” by Weston Ochse, “Just One Damned Thing After Another” by Jodi Taylor and “Devil’s Coach-Horse” by Richard Lewis.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – February 2019:

– “Three Sneaky Tricks For Making Rushed Webcomic Updates Look Good
– “Two Quick Tips For Adding Symbolism To Realistic Photo-Based Art
– “Narrative Styles And Emotional Tone – A Ramble
– “Using Connections To Beat Writer’s Block- A Ramble
– “Three Tips For Finding Topics For Short Stories
– “Three Things To Do When You Can’t Write In Your Favourite Genres
– “Two Basic Tips For Making Drawings And/Or Paintings Based On Your Photos
– “Three Tips For Writing 1980s-Style Horror Fiction
– “Three Tips For Choosing Good Photos (That You’ve Taken) To Make Paintings Of
– “Three Random Tips For Writing Comedy Horror

Honourable Mentions:

– “Four Reasons Why 1970s/80s Horror Fiction Is So Cool
– “Three Reasons Why Books Are Better Than Film And TV

Review: “Turtle Moon” By Alice Hoffman (Novel)

Ever since I learnt that the film “Practical Magic” was based on a book by Alice Hoffman, I’d meant to read one of her books. And, although I looked at a few of them online after I discovered this fact, I never got round to buying one.

But, a week or so before writing this review, I was shopping for books online and I suddenly remembered “Practical Magic” but, for cost reasons, ended up getting a second-hand copy of Hoffman’s 1992 novel “Turtle Moon” instead.

So, let’s take a look at “Turtle Moon”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2002 Vintage (UK) paperback edition of “Turtle Moon” that I read.

“Turtle Moon” takes place in the Florida town of Verity. A town where there is a heatwave every May and strange things happen. This town is also a place where divorced women from across America sometimes find themselves living after they’ve left. One of those women is a former New Yorker called Lucy Rosen, whose twelve-year old son Keith seems to be both the local school bully and a criminal-in-training.

Another of those women is Karen, who used to be called Bethany until she realised that her husband was going to get custody of her daughter. So, she fled New York with the baby, a suitcase full of cash and a fake ID that she got made along the way. She is Lucy’s neighbour, although they only talk to each other occasionally.

Then, one night, Karen is murdered. Both Keith and Karen’s baby daughter are missing. It quickly becomes apparent that Keith has run away with the baby.

The local police, especially their dog handler Julian (a solitary man, tormented by guilt over a car crash that claimed his cousin’s life when he was younger), look into the case. But, in addition to looking for Keith, Lucy also decides to investigate Karen’s past in order to work out who killed her and prevent Keith from falling under suspicion.

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a masterpiece. Even though it contains many depressing moments – the writing, characters, atmosphere, plot complexity and level of depth in this novel are utterly spectacular. This is a novel that I couldn’t put down during some parts because of the sheer quality of the writing and this is a novel that made me cry (with both joy and poignant sorrow) several times towards the end.

The writing in this story is absolutely beautiful. It is a joy to read 🙂 I haven’t seen writing this good since I read Poppy Z. Brite’s “Lost Souls” about eleven years ago. And, this is about the highest compliment I can pay a writer.

Hoffman writes in a wonderfully flowing, atmospheric, warm and vivid style that is both formal and informal at the same time. The novel’s third-person narration is filled with fascinating details and beautifully artistic metaphors. It is a style of narration that could only have come from 1990s America and it is such a joy to see a writer using this type of narration again so long after I read Brite’s “Lost Souls” all those years ago 🙂

One interesting thing about this novel is that it is actually a noir detective story in disguise. Everything from the focus on the grimly mundane, to the Florida/New York settings, to Lucy and Julian’s investigations, to the premise of the story to some of the later scenes could have easily come from the pages of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammmett. Yes, this story is a bit different to the average noir story, but even so, the influence from the noir genre is surprisingly clear in some scenes.

Another interesting thing about this novel is how it relates to both “The Simpsons” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”. Neither of these things are directly referenced but, like both of these things, it features a delinquent boy (Keith Rosen) as one of the main characters. Keith seems to have the spiky hair of Bart Simpson and the troubled background of John Connor.

In the early part of the story, he is the kind of criminal (the narration often refers to him as “the meanest boy in Verity” – initially seriously, then ironically) that could have come from any 1990s tabloid page. Yet, as the story progresses, we get to see that he is actually a nicer and more human person than even he thinks that he is. He also seems to go on some kind of mythical odyssey where, for example, he loses his voice for quite a while. There are also lots of surprisingly heartwarming scenes where he looks after both the baby and a ferocious rescue dog who seems to take a liking to him.

This brings me on to the novel’s characters, and they are all extremely well-written. They all have backstories, flaws, motivations and personalities that really help to bring the novel to life. Seriously, this is one of those novels that has a real sense of humanity to it when it comes to how the characters are described.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. Whilst the story is neither fast-paced nor slow-paced, the plot and the style of the writing means that it keeps moving constantly. Likewise, the novel is about 275 pages long (in the edition I read) and it is always great to see shorter novels 🙂 The novel feels like no space is wasted and it still feels like a fairly substatial story. Seriously, I miss the days when 200-300 pages was standard for novels.

This novel also contains some rather interesting magic realist elements that work surprisingly well. The most notable of these is probably the ghost of Julian’s cousin, who haunts a tree near a doughnut shop. These elements of the story are kept subtle enough not to break the reader’s suspension of disbelief, and they are also a really good fit with Hoffman’s vivid, descriptive writing style too. In other words, they add to the quirky, dream-like atmosphere of the story without ever really standing out as fantastical.

This novel’s emotional tone is incredibly interesting. Although the first third or so of the novel is filled with nothing but miserable and depressing events/backstory, the beauty and style of the writing helps to keep these parts gripping nonetheless (in addition to preventing them becoming too depressing to read).

Then, as the story progresses, the emotional tone occasionally lightens very slightly – with the novel’s later moments of joy and love being tear-jerkingly poignant in contrast to all of the gloom and bleak misery that has preceded them. Seriously, the last hundred pages or so of this novel made me cry (mostly with joy, but occasionally with poignant sorrow) more times than I could have expected.

In terms of how this twenty seven year old novel has aged, it has aged astonishingly well. Yes, some parts of this story come across as very distinctively ’90s such as the focus on divorces and juvenile delinquency or the infrequent ’90s references (eg: Keith looks a little bit like Bart Simpson, there’s a mention of Guns N’ Roses etc..). But, there’s nothing shockingly dated here and I really loved the “early 1990s America” atmosphere of the book too 🙂

Plus, this story is just as readable and emotionally powerful today as it probably was in 1992. This story is a 1990s story in the best possible way – it’s the kind of lush, vivid, beautiful thing that could only have existed in early 1990s America (kind of like “Lost Souls”). It has a humanity to it that could have only come from the 1990s. When you read this book, you get the sense that it is both old and yet timelessly new at the same time.

All in all, even though this book contains many depressing moments, it is still a masterpiece. Even if it’s the kind of story you normally wouldn’t read, it is well worth reading just to experience the quality and style of the writing. Not to mention that, if you’re a fan of 1990s America, then you’ll love this book too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a solid five.

Narrative Styles And Emotional Tone – A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d look at how the narrative style of your fiction can affect your story’s emotional tone. This is mostly because I’ve seen some really interesting examples of this in some of the novels that I’ve been reading recently.

The most striking example is probably in the novel I’m reading at the time of writing this article. This is an Alice Hoffman novel from 1992 called “Turtle Moon” and, on paper at least, it should be an incredibly bleak and depressing story.

Literally none of the characters seem to have cheerful backstories and virtually nothing good or happy has happened within the first hundred pages or so. Yet, despite this, I’ve kept reading it eagerly and thankfully haven’t been overwhelmed by misery and sadness. But, why?

Simply put, the writing in this novel is beautiful. All of the story’s grimness, sorrow and bleakness is expertly contrasted with a lush, poetic, magical and hyper-vivid writing style that is an absolutely joy to read. Seriously, the sheer beauty of the writing means that the depressing elements of the story are kept at a slightly safe distance from the reader. We still see all of these bleak, gut-wrenching, depressing things happening, but it’s like looking at a beautiful painting rather than at a grim photograph.

On the other hand, Shaun Hutson’s 2009 horror novel “Last Rites” contains a lot of similar themes to “Turtle Moon” (eg: broken relationships, bereavement, delinquent youth etc…) and also contains lots of characters with miserable backstories too. Yet, this horror novel feels about ten times more grim and depressing than “Turtle Moon”. But, why?

Ok, there are reasons like temporal and geographic distance (eg: early 1990s America vs. late 2000s Britain) too. But, the most important reason is the different writing styles that these authors use in the two novels.

Whilst Hoffman is able to give the reader a safe level of emotional distance through beautiful, magical, poetic writing – Hutson takes the opposite approach. Hutson’s writing style is a lot more “matter of fact”. This makes the story seem a lot more realistic, which emphasises the grim and bleak elements of the story a lot more. If reading Hoffman’s narration is like looking at a beautiful painting, reading Hutson’s narration is like looking at stark CCTV footage.

This, incidentally, is why traditional 1980s splatterpunk horror novels are so morbidly fascinating. When writers like Clive Barker or Shaun Hutson were telling horror stories during the 1980s, their narration would become (or, in Barker’s case, remain) very beautiful, vivid, detailed and poetic whenever they described something grisly, grotesque or disgusting. This contrast between the beautiful and the grotesque lends these scenes a unique quality which is both intensely horrific and intensely fascinating at the same time. It’s a really weird emotional tone that is difficult to describe (and has to be read in order to be understood properly).

Of course, writers can use the narrative style to affect the emotional tone of their stories in lots of other interesting ways too. A great example of this is a time travel-themed sci-fi novel from 2013 called “Just One Damned Thing After Another” by Jodi Taylor that I read recently. This novel uses informal, punk-like first-person narration which is fairly “matter of fact”, whilst also emphasising the narrator’s irreverent, eccentric and practical personality.

This style is really interesting because it makes the novel’s many comedic moments even funnier by, for example, showing the narrator’s irreverent attitude towards serious things (eg: rules, history etc..) and also showing how different her perspective is to a typical sci-fi thriller protagonist. It also lends the story’s comedic scenes a jaunty and chaotic punk-like atmosphere too.

Yet, at the same time, this “matter of fact” narration also means that when bleak, nasty and depressing things happen to the main character, they’re considerably more intense and depressing. The same “down to earth” narration that makes things like the narrator getting wasted the night before a crucial research mission so hilarious also makes the novel’s grim moments about ten times bleaker, more intense, more “realistic” and/or more shocking too.

So, yes, your choice of narrative style can have a huge effect on the emotional tone of a story. A vivid, poetic, artistic narrative style that can lend beauty to joyous things will also moderate the effect of grimmer or more depressing things. By contrast, a more “matter of fact” style will add intensity to anything from comedy to bleak sorrow.

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Anyway, I hope that this is useful 🙂

Review: “Just One Damned Thing After Another” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Back when I first discovered another novel called “The Invisible Library” by Genevieve Cogman, I happened to notice Jodi Taylor’s 2013 novel “Just One Damned Thing After Another” on the same website. Intrigued by the title, I… waited several months before eventually remembering it and buying a second-hand copy.

So, let’s take a look at “Just One Damned Thing After Another”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2017 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “Just One Damned Thing After Another” that I read.

The novel begins when a historian called Dr. Madeleine Maxwell (or “Max” for short), receives a job offer from a mysterious research facility called “St. Mary’s”. After the interview, she is asked to sign some official documents before it is revealed that this research institute doesn’t just study the past… they can travel to it. However, it is a dangerous job. An extremely dangerous job. The kind of job that gives Health and Safety people nightmares. Naturally, Max is delighted…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is brilliant! Imagine “Doctor Who” mixed with “Stargate SG-1” mixed with “Warehouse 13” mixed with “St. Trinians” – but with a bit more humour, a bit more grittiness, a slightly punk attitude, a lot more eccentricity and even more tea. Seriously, there is a lot of tea in this novel.

Basically, this novel is a gloriously quirky, nerdy sci-fi thriller novel (with some comedy and grim drama too). The sci-fi elements of the story are vague enough to be quirky/intriguing/comedic, whilst also being explained enough to seem realistic. The novel also does the “the extraordinary is mundane” thing in a way that I haven’t seen done so well since I finished watching “Stargate SG-1” on DVD a few years ago. Plus, the novel sets up some really interesting rules… which are then broken in equally interesting ways.

In addition to this, despite being a sci-fi novel, one amusing theme in the novel is how history is the least glamourous of the academic disciplines and how the historians are eager to compete with the sciences for press coverage and/or prestige. This hilariously ironic plot element is also helped by the fact that more emphasis is placed on how cool time travel is rather than the science behind it.

The novel’s thriller elements are really interesting too. This story includes a really interesting mixture of character-based drama, situation-based drama and action-thriller elements. Whilst this novel isn’t the kind of thriller that can be binge read in a single short session, it is an incredibly gripping book. Plus, there are some truly brilliant moments of suspense and drama too 🙂

As for the novel’s historical elements, it probably isn’t historically accurate. There’s even a disclaimer at the beginning of the book that reads “I made this all up. Historians and physicists – please do not spit on me in the street“. And this novel’s gleefully irreverent attitude towards history, despite being a novel about the importance of historical accuracy, just adds to the gloriously eccentric charm of the story 🙂

The writing and narration in this novel is absolutely amazing. This novel has personality. The novel is narrated by Max and her informal narration is so much fun to read 🙂 It’s both grimly matter-of-fact and brilliantly comedic at the same time.

Seriously, the last time I found first-person narration as good and distinctive as this was in an incredibly chilling horror novel called “Slights” By Kaaron Warren that I read a decade ago. Or possibly in Hewlett & Martin’s hilarious “Tank Girl: Armadillo” novel (which I really must re-read sometime). Or in Warren Ellis’ “Crooked Little Vein”. In other words, the writing and narration in this novel is brilliant.

The characters in this novel are also brilliant too. Whether it is Max herself, who is a more British and mildly more realistic version of the typical “badass action hero” character you’d expect to see in a thriller, whilst also having emotional depth too (the closest comparison I can think of is Starbuck from the modern version of “Battlestar Galactica” mixed with Tank Girl, but this comparison doesn’t even come close). The background characters are quirky, interesting and/or complicated too.

The novel’s villains are especially interesting too. The main villain is a moustache-twirling evil mastermind who only appears in a few scenes, and is more comedically evil than genuinely frightening. Yet, all of the story’s lesser villians are a lot scarier and more… shocking… than you would expect. Seriously, this novel’s moments of evil will catch you by surprise and make you gasp.

One interesting thing about this novel is that the time and place it is set in are left mysteriously ambiguous. At first, we’re given the impression that it is set in some version of present-day Britain. Yet, the novel’s “world” includes hologram technology (which is seen as normal, mundane and everyday). Plus, the characters sometimes use realistic guns and sometimes use futuristic “blasters” (seemingly at random). At one point, someone without any money visits a “free clinic” (seriously, what happened to the NHS?!?!).

So, whether this novel is set in a mildly dystopian parallel universe and/or version of the near future is left intriguingly ambiguous. Personally, I like to think of it in a similar way to the “so bad that it’s good” television series “Bugs“, in that it is set in an amusingly weird alternate version of our own world.

The emotional tone of this novel is extremely strange though. When I started reading it, I thought that it was one of the best comedy novels I’d read in quite a while. Then there was a slightly serious segment about WW1. Then the story was back to being a comedy again. And then it suddenly got very dark, creepy and disturbing (you’ll know the scene in question when you see it!). Then it became a comedy again. Then there was more misery and unrelenting bleakness… that then relented to provide some brilliant moments of satisfying drama. And then…

Seriously, this novel is one hell of an emotional rollercoaster! And, although the story’s darker moments can really catch you by surprise, this contrast works surprisingly well. The novel’s grim/bleak/disturbing parts make the humour funnier by contrast and vice versa. Even so, be prepared for a shock or two when reading this book.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably interesting. The pacing is really good, and the story never really gets dull. Somehow, this book manages to seem like a meandering, random thing whilst actually telling a very carefully planned and structured story that won’t fully make sense until the end. Seriously, the pacing in this novel is brilliant! It’s relaxing, yet also unpredictable and incredibly compelling.

Plus, although the novel is a little on the long side at 394 pages in length, it crams a lot of storytelling, settings etc.. into those 394 pages. Likewise, this novel is compelling enough that you’ll want to spend a while longer reading it. So, the length is acceptable.

Although this novel is clearly the first novel in a series (and I’ve already ordered the second book), it thankfully only ends on a small cliffhanger and tells a reasonably self-contained story that leaves you eager for more. Basically, this novel is spent setting up what I presume to be the premise of the rest of the series. But, you’ll be so gripped by all of the story developments that you won’t care that you’ve just read what is essentially an extended “pilot episode” for a longer series.

All in all, this novel is astonishingly good. Yes, the changes in emotional tone might catch you by surprise (and some parts of the book are pretty grim/shocking). But, everything from the narration to the humour to the atmosphere to the adventures to the settings to the premise of the story is brilliant.

If you want a quirky, gripping sci-fi novel that is alternately hilariously funny and grimly depressing/shocking/bleak, then read this book! If you want something that is like a slightly punk, post-watershed version of “Doctor Who”, mixed with a British version of “Stargate SG-1”, then read this novel. In short, read this novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

The Complete “Work In Progress” Line Art For My “Damania Reconstituted” Webcomic Mini Series

Well, in the traditional fashion, I thought that I’d show off the “work in progress” line art for my recent “Damania Reconstituted” webcomic mini series.

Since I used digital/photographic backgrounds for two of the comics, the line art for these comics will look a little bit odd (eg: a random collection of drawings and dialogue. I’ve also included the original background images too).

Surprisingly, there were relatively few dialogue changes between the line art and finished comics. The only one I can think of is the fact that the line art for this comic was originally going to have both characters exclaim “damn it!” and “bollocks!” upon seeing each other, but I thought it was funnier if they remained silent (with their reactions being shown via facial expressions). Likewise, the third comic includes typed background text that doesn’t appear in the line art too.

Anyway, here’s the line art 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

“Damania Reconstituted – 2017 (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconstituted – Woods (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconstituted – Replay (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconstituted – Seaside (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown