Today’s Art (31st August 2019)

Well, it’s been a while since I last made any cyberpunk art and, although the lighting in this digitally-edited painting turned out fairly well, the background didn’t end up being as detailed as I’d originally planned.

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

“Apartment” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – August 2019

Well, it’s the end of the month and this means that it’s time for me to collect a list of the ten best articles about writing, making comics, reading books etc.. that I’ve posted here over the past month (As usual, I’ll also include a few honourable mentions too).

Despite being busy with various things, this month’s articles turned out better than I expected. Not only that, I also managed to review thirteen novels this month too – my favourites were probably: “Cabal” by Clive Barker, “Kill The Dead” by Tanith Lee, “Anno Mortis” by Rebecca Levene, “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero and “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” by Jodi Taylor.

Anyway, here are the lists, enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – August 2019:

– “Three Ways To Make Familiar Horror Monsters Scarier
– “One Essential, But Overlooked, Element Of Fantasy Fiction – A Ramble
– “Four Reasons To Read Books By Lots Of Different Authors
– “The One Time You Should Avoid Writing Advice – A Ramble
– “Three Random Tips For Making Your Zombie Story Stand Out From The Crowd
– “Three Thoughts About Writing Short Fantasy Fiction
– “Three Benefits And Downsides Of Reading A Lot
– “One Way To Improve The Filler Comics In Your Webcomic
– “Three More Thoughts About How To Make Zombie Stories Scary
– “Three Lessons Writers Can Learn From 1980s Horror Fiction

Honourable Mentions:

– “Three Awesome Reasons Why Books Are Rebellious
– “When Is It Ok To ‘Break The Rules’ In Your Writing?
– “Small Recaps Are Useful For Your Readers! Use Them! – A Ramble

Today’s Art (30th August 2019)

Well, I was in the mood for another photo-based painting and although this digitally-edited painting (based on this photo I took of Fareham Creek/Marina last September) wasn’t as detailed/realistic as I’d originally hoped, it ended up looking a lot more vivid than I’d expected.

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

“Fareham Creek – Boats” By C. A. Brown

One Essential, But Overlooked, Element Of Fantasy Fiction – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d take a very quick look at the fantasy genre again. This is mostly because the novel that I just finished reading (Kill The Dead” by Tanith Lee) reminded me of another, somewhat overlooked, element of fantasy fiction that gives these stories a lot more emotional depth, humanity and atmosphere.

In short, nothing is mass-produced in traditional-style fantasy stories. This sounds like a really small thing, but it has a huge impact on the atmosphere and tone of fantasy stories.

In essence, everything in the story – from the buildings, to the items, to the musical instruments etc… is a unique thing that has been made by hand by people of varying skill levels. This means that every location seems slightly unique and every object in the story has a greater significance because it has it’s own backstory. After all, it was made by a person rather than churned out by a factory.

This “every object has it’s own backstory” thing can be used in all sorts of creative ways. For example, in Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead”, a bizarre musical instrument (cobbled together from three other instruments) is not only used to explore quite a lot of one character’s backstory, but the instrument’s backstory also means that you actually care about what happens to it. Now try to imagine the same thing for a mass-produced smartphone in a thriller story or something like that. It just isn’t the same.

In addition to this, it also means that many objects in fantasy stories are at least slightly unique. This, again, can be useful for worldbuilding and characterisation. After all, if the objects in your fantasy story are as unique as the people that made them, then they are probably going to tell the reader more about the places where they are created.

Likewise, these handmade objects in fantasy fiction will often be well-used or slightly imperfect in some way or another, which helps to add to the vaguely tragic and thoroughly human atmosphere of the story. It really creates the sense of people living in a harsh medieval-style world where everything matters more and things have to either last longer or be made/repaired by people who might not be experts at a particular trade.

Plus, because objects in fantasy fiction are made to last, this can also give these items a lot of backstory – especially if they have been handed down through the generations or stolen/won in battle from other characters.

In other words, fantasy fiction is one of the few genres where inanimate objects rountinely have characterisation. This adds a lot more atmosphere and depth to a story than you might expect.


Sorry for the ultra-short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Review: “Kill The Dead” By Tanith Lee (Novel)

Well, after seeing several horror fiction websites mention Tanith Lee’s novels over the years, I’ve been meaning to read one of them. But, when I looked online for second-hand copies, they often seemed to be slightly on the pricer side of things. So, when I saw that a second-hand copy of Lee’s 1980 fantasy novel “Kill The Dead” was going cheap, I decided to check it out. And I’m so glad that I did 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Kill The Dead”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS (but I’ll avoid major ones).

This is the 1990 Legend (UK) paperback edition of “Kill The Dead” that I read.

The novel begins in the leaning tower of a decaying house beside a mountain road. A young woman called Ciddey Soban stares out of a window and sees a mysterious man in a dark cloak walking along the road. Panicked, she warns her sister – Cilny – to hide.

The man on the road, Parl Dro, is a famous exorcist who is searching for the legendary city of the dead, Ghyste Mortua. But, when he nears the house, he senses something. So, he enters the garden to investigate. Ciddey rushes out of the door with a knife and tries to threaten him. More amused than frightened, Parl leaves with a promise to return.

In a nearby inn, the star-struck locals are more than happy to tell Parl all of the gossip about the Soban family. Yet, they are disappointed that Parl doesn’t want to do anything about the ghost they suspect lives with Ciddey. On his way to bed, Parl plays a sneaky practical joke on a musician called Myal who tries to pick his pocket.

The next morning, Parl climbs a nearby hill and watches the villagers throw stones at Ciddey’s house. To Parl’s surprise, Myal joins him on the hill to remonstrate about the fact that the purse he’d stolen contained nothing but stones. The two of them talk for a while and then go their separate ways, both of which lead towards Ciddey’s house…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is excellent 🙂 Once you get used to Lee’s writing style, you will be rewarded with an enchantingly atmospheric, gloomily gothic and beautifully bittersweet tale that will draw you in and leave you tearful and astonished when it is over. Seriously, this novel is astonishingly good. Imagine a mixture between an Alice Hoffman novel, a 19th century ghost story and an episode of “Game Of Thrones” – and this should give you some idea what to expect.

Interestingly, it’s a bit difficult to categorise this novel by genre. It has elements of a traditional ghost story/horror story, elements of gothic fiction, elements of dark fantasy and elements of “grimdark” fantasy. It’s a tale that is hauntingly tragic, gloomily morose and bitterly bleak and yet it also has a heart and soul to it that you might not expect. Despite the fantastical trappings, this is very much a human story about loneliness, sorrow, redemption, memory, genius, self-loathing and psychology.

The novel’s fantasy elements are fairly interesting. In essence, the novel only really has one fantastical element – ghosts. But, by focusing on the mechanics of how ghosts are created and dispelled, this novel has an intensity to it that stories with lots of different fantasy elements don’t really have. Seriously, by just using this one fantastical thing as the main focus of the story, Lee gives the novel much more depth than you might expect. Not to mention that the novel’s ghost-based elements also contain some hints of vampire fiction too 🙂

The novel’s medieval-like settings are really atmospheric too. With the exception of one mystical location (Ghyste Mortua), none of the other locations are named. They are just small villages, crumbling houses, desolate plains etc… and, yet, rather than making these locations seem generic, this just adds realism and atmosphere to the story. In addition to lots of well-written descriptions, the fact that these rural locations are so ordinary that they aren’t even named really helps to add emphasis to the “long journey” theme and bleak atmosphere of the novel too.

In terms of the characters, this novel is exquisite. Not only is the begrudging friendship between the terse, mysterious and morose ghost-hunter Parl Dro and the optimistic, but tragic, musician/thief Myal Lemayal a huge part of what makes this novel so interesting, but both characters get loads of characterisation too 🙂

In addition to this, the novel’s antagonist – Ciddey Soban – comes across as a very chilling, yet thoroughly realistic and tragic, character too. Seriously, the main characters in this novel are some of the most well-written that I’ve ever seen.

And not only that, even the briefly-glimpsed/described background characters seem intriguing and real too. Seriously, the characterisation in this book is so good that it can even make you care very deeply about an inanimate musical instrument. Yes, a musical instrument is a character in this book – and it works!

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is utterly brilliant… when you get used to it. In short, the novel is written in a highly elaborate and ultra-formal 19th century-like style which will probably seem “overwritten” at first.

It is the kind of book that casually uses phrases like “such a dwelling betokened the proximity of the village” and even taught me a new word (“concupiscence”) too. But, Lee uses this style for a good reason. Not only does it add to the historical/fantastical atmosphere of the story, but it also gives everything in the story a level of atmosphere and depth that might catch you by surprise.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really interesting. At a gloriously efficient 172 pages, this novel is that wonderfully rare thing – a short medieval fantasy novel 🙂 Due to the highly formal and detailed writing style, this novel is very much on the slow-paced side of things. But, once you’ve got to know the characters and immersed yourself in the setting, the story becomes so compelling that the fact that it moves slowly just means that you have more time to enjoy it 🙂

As for how this thirty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Thanks to the vaguely medieval setting, the elaborate 19th century-style narration and the really well-written characters, this novel is timeless.

All in all, this novel is a masterpiece. Yes, it might take you a while to get used to the writing style, but it is well worth putting in the effort. This novel is an atmospheric, poignant and compelling gothic/dark/grimdark fantasy story that is filled with some of the best characters you’ll ever see. Plus, it is a short fantasy novel too 🙂

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

Today’s Art (28th August 2019)

Well, although I’ll probably spend the next day or two making photo-based paintings, today’s digitally-edited painting was originally meant to be a stylised “1980s” painting but, to my surprise, it went in more of a “modern film noir” style direction instead.

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

“Sunset Drive” By C. A. Brown

Three Thoughts About Writing Short Fantasy Fiction

Well, I thought that I’d talk about the fantasy genre today. This is mostly because the novel that I’m reading at the moment (“Kill The Dead” by Tanith Lee) is a short traditional-style fantasy novel – seriously, it’s just 172 pages long 🙂

One of the things that can be off-putting about the fantasy genre is the sheer length of the average fantasy novel. Don’t get me wrong, longer fantasy stories/series can be good (eg: J.K. Rowling, Clive Barker, G.R.R Martin etc..) but a longer novel is just as likely to put readers off as it is to attract them.

So, whilst Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead” isn’t the first shorter fantasy novel I’ve read (since I also read urban fantasy novels sometimes), what I’ve read of it so far has made me think about what makes a good short fantasy story. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips.

1) A focused story: Simply put, if you want your fantasy story to be a lean and efficient story, then you need to focus on a few essential elements.

For example, I’ve read just over half of Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead” so far. In what I have read, there are three main characters, one central magical element (eg: the creation and exorcism of ghosts) and one mythical location for the characters to journey towards. Everything in the story is related to these five elements.

If you want to tell a shorter fantasy story, then this seems like a good template to follow. In other words, you need to find the few truly essential elements of your story and then focus all of your attention, descriptions etc.. on these things.

2) Pre-existing elements: If you are telling a fantasy story within a sensible number of pages, then you need to at least partially rely on things that the reader already knows and understands before they read your story. Yes, you need to add one or two important new elements to these things (otherwise your story will become generic and uncreative), but you also need to rely on your reader’s pre-existing knowledge too.

For example, Dave Duncan’s “A Rose Red City” partially relies on the reader’s knowledge of history and myth in order to make room for more storytelling. Likewise, Rebecca Levene’s “Anno Mortis” uses pre-existing history and a mixture of Roman/Norse/Greek/Egyptian mythology in order to add a lot of extra depth to a relatively short (350 pages or so) self-contained dark fantasy thriller story.

Plus, pretty much every urban fantasy novel already expects the reader to know what vampires, werewolves, elves etc… are and what the modern world looks like.

This sort of thing can, of course, be done in a much more subtle way too. For example, the settings in the first half of Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead” are all various nameless villages and natural landscapes. Since the average fantasy reader will already be familiar with medieval-style villages and most people will be familiar with natural landscapes, the novel can do a large amount of worldbuilding with relatively few well-chosen descriptions and details – leaving more room for characterisation, drama, storytelling etc….

3) Other genres: Virtually every shorter fantasy story that I’ve mentioned so far has taken inspiration from at least one other genre (eg: the thriller and/or horror genres).

Focusing on blending the fantasy genre with another genre means that you have to use techniques from that genre. Many other genres have more of an emphasis on fast-paced, suspenseful, focused storytelling.

In other words, adding another genre shakes you free from the traditions of the fantasy genre. It frees you from the idea that fantasy novels have to be giant, sprawling epics that contain seven pages of family trees and four maps before the first chapter even begins.

Other genres don’t really do this sort of thing very often. So, by adding elements from another genre to your fantasy story, you can use those elements to tell a leaner and more efficient fantasy story 🙂


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Red Dwarf: Last Human” By Doug Naylor (Novel)

Well, I’d initially planned to read another horror novel but, after being so impressed by the previous book I’d read, the two retro 1980s horror novels I’d been thinking about reading next didn’t really seem as interesting by comparison. Still, I needed to read something. And something good too.

Luckily, a few days earlier, I’d been searching the back row of my bookshelves and found a copy of a novel that I’d really enjoyed when I was a teenager. I am, of course, talking about Doug Naylor’s 1995 sci-fi comedy novel “Last Human”, based on the excellent TV series “Red Dwarf” that he wrote with Rob Grant.

Although it is possible to enjoy this book without having seen any episodes of “Red Dwarf” (and it might actually enhance your enjoyment of several scenes), this book will probably make more sense and you’ll get more of the humour if you’ve seen the TV show before you read the book.

So, let’s take a look at “Last Human”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1995 Penguin (UK) paperback edition of “Last Human” that I read.

The novel begins with a brief scene showing the birth of the first ever human. Then, we flash forwards to the distant future where the last human in existence, a slob called Dave Lister, finds himself waking up on a prison ship. He has vague memories of a trial held by genetically-engineered life forms (GELFs) but the charges remain a mystery and all we get to see is Lister’s hilariously inept attempt at conducting his own defence.

Finally, the prison ship touches down on a desolate asteroid. Cyberia. A feared penal colony, where convicts have to spend their sentences in cyberhell – a nightmarish virtual world, designed to cause anguish and suffering.

Meanwhile, another Dave Lister wakes up on a spaceship called Starbug after a long period in stasis. After spending several decades reverse-ageing on a planet where time flows backwards, he is back to normal. It has been worth it though since it allowed him to resurrect Kristine Kochanski, his girlfriend. The rest of the crew – an android called Kryten, a hologram called Rimmer and a stylish humanoid creature that has evolved from cats (called Cat) also awaken from stasis too.

However, it isn’t long before they get an alert about a spaceship stranded on a nearby asteroid. Not only that, the ship seems to be an almost exact copy of Starbug….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it is a very funny comedy novel, it’s also something of a sci-fi thriller with horror elements too 🙂 Yes, the plot gets a little bit convoluted at times, but it all still somehow makes sense and the novel is a rather compelling and amusing read 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s comedy elements. These are an amusing mixture of character-based humour, funny dialogue, farce, dark comedy, background details, gross-out humour, slapstick, irony, innuendo, parody/satire, witty descriptions and puerile humour. This is the kind of novel that will literally make you laugh out loud every once in a while.

One interesting feature of this novel is that, occasionally, it will shoehorn random scenes from the TV show into the story. Whilst these scenes are some of the funniest moments from the show (and will be even funnier if you haven’t seen the show before), whilst they provoke a lot of nostalgia and whilst they do work in context, it does feel a little bit like lazy recycling.

Interestingly though, due to story events, Kochanski actually says a slightly altered version of Lister’s dialogue during at least one of these scenes. Likewise, the dialogue/story when Lister wakes up from stasis is altered slightly to include Kochanski too.

The novel’s thriller/horror elements are also quite well-written and help to provide some contrast with the comedy too. Not only is there a surprising amount of gripping suspense, but the story’s fast-paced scenes will also often tread a fine line between being slapstick/farce and being “serious” action scenes. The novel also contains a surprising amount of horror too – whilst most of this falls firmly into dark comedy territory, there are actually a couple of genuinely creepy moments here (such as alternate Lister remembering his evil foster mother etc..).

The novel’s sci-fi elements are fairly interesting. Whilst the novel takes the same tongue-in-cheek approach to the genre as the TV show does (and includes some fan favourites like GELFs, the luck virus, spare head three etc..), all of the sci-fi elements are surprisingly well-developed. They follow a logical set of rules that are not only used for some dramatic action set-pieces, but also for comedy too. Seriously, there are lots of silly background details and ironic pieces of backstory here.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. Not only do the main characters from the TV show gain a bit of extra depth, but there are a few interesting side-characters too – such as Rimmer’s son (Michael R. McGruder) and an alternate version of Lister. Given that the novel derives a fair amount of humour and drama from the characters, they are reasonably well-written.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly “matter of fact” way, whilst also being peppered with irreverent descriptions and asides too 🙂 Seriously, the writing style of this novel captures the atmosphere and style of the TV show really well…. Which is to be expected, given that it was written by one of the writers from said TV show.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At a reasonably efficient 310 pages, it never really feels too long. Likewise, thanks to the humour and some well-placed set pieces, this novel as a whole feels neither too fast-paced or too slow-paced. Whilst the novel does have a slightly convoluted plot that can slow things down at times, the pacing becomes a lot more thriller-like during various parts of the story. So, it all balances out.

As for how this twenty-four year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well. Yes, a bit of the humour will seem slightly old but, thanks to the sci-fi setting and the many types of comedy and drama included in the story, this novel feels both wonderfully nostalgic and almost timeless at the same time.

All in all, this is a fairly compelling, and funny, sci-fi novel that is a bit like what a feature-length episode of “Red Dwarf” with an unlimited special effects budget would look like. Yes, the plot gets a little bit convoluted at times and a few scenes are recycled from the TV show, but it still stands up fairly well as a spin-off novel 🙂

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