Cutting Books In Half: It’s Not OK

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Following on from the revelation that an actual author, no less, slices thick books in half to ‘make them more portable’, many people were, rightly, outraged.

Then some news outlets started to defend this madness and state that it was fine to rip books in half if you want to.

Spoiler alert: it’s fucking not.

Books might just be objects to some people, but for the majority of the population they are important learning tools that contain valuable information. The authors, publishers, illustrators and the rest of those involved in book production all worked very hard to create those books. It’s disrespectful to them for people to be chopping them in two, be it for portability or any other reason.

Also, it’s important that we set a good example to children and anyone else who needs to be encouraged to read more. You need to show others, particularly the young, that books and knowledge are something to be cherished and treasured.

After all, books are a symbol of learning and knowledge, so it’s important that we treat them as revered products that will enhance our view of the world. We can’t treat books like disposable trash, but instead we should treat them as important tools that are designed to give us a better view of the world.

Throughout history, book burning has been a traditional way of ridding cultures of works deemed ‘undesirable’ to the reigning regime for hundreds of years, and cutting books in two shows them as much disrespect as chucking them onto a roaring fire. It makes the knowledge in them appear worthless and gives others the idea that treating books poorly is the way we can regard the information contained within their pages.

That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. If you’re a fan of folding down your pages to mark your place then that’s all good. You don’t have to keep your books pristine and in a little plastic overcoat like they do at libraries. Wear and tear is a vital part of the lifecycle of any book. You can keep them however you like, just don’t utterly disrespect them by cutting them in half.

This process disrespects the books, shows that you have no regard for anyone involved in creating them and ruins your enjoyment of the books themselves. It’s hard to really get your teeth into a book when it’s been sawed clean in two.

In summary, I would strongly urge anyone who is considering cutting books into pieces, be it for the sake of portability, being funny or simply going viral, to stop and take a long hard look at themselves. They might soon realise that what’s looking back at them is not the genius they thought they were, but in fact an ignorant human being who shouldn’t be behaving in such an uncouth way.

Stop mutilating books, be it for the sake of expediency or, as I suspect is the case here, for likes on social media. Such popularity is fleeting, but the knowledge, insight and sheer joy that books impart can last a lifetime.

Michael Kelso Interview: “When writing my crime fiction novel I took a lot of inspiration from my Corrections Officer career”

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This week’s interview is with former Corrections Officer turned crime and horror writer Michael Kelso. He didn’t send me a picture, so I typed his name into Google and this is what came up. Pretty sure it’s him!  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?

I was a Corrections Officer at a local prison for 20 years. I started writing during the time I worked there. Being in that type of environment definitely shaped the tone of many of my works.

How do you capitalise on being named after a character in That 70s Show, and if you don’t then why not?

I can’t say that I capitalize on it, but I don’t shy away from it either. It’s the name I was born with. The fact that a fictional character shares my name doesn’t change my writing for the most part. I did add a line in one of my stories to poke fun at my namesake. The fact that I write crime fiction and horror most of the time make it difficult to capitalize on that character.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing crime fiction?

I’m self-taught; or, at least, I determined to learn how to write on my own. I read many books on the subject, the most helpful being, Write great fiction: dialogue by Gloria Kempton. I also learned a lot from some amazing writing mentors on Fanstory.com. The time I was on that site formed me into the author I am today. Unfortunately, two of my mentors passed away last year. Crime fiction came from the story as it developed.

Talk me through One on One. How has the book been received by readers so far and why?

It started out as a 3,000-word short story. When I first wrote it, I focused on the more brutal parts of the story. It was fully intended to be a horror story about a fictional prison. Once the story was complete I realized that there was much more that I could do with it. I took scenes and extended them. I added characters.

As the story grew I knew it could no longer classify it as horror. The longer it got the more I realized it was turning into a crime story with less focus on the brutality and more focus on the main character and how easy it is to step from the role of hero to that of villain. So far I’ve heard nothing but good things from readers. Many of them are asking for more, which I take as a sign of approval.

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Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

When writing my crime fiction novel I took a lot of inspiration from my Corrections Officer career: the background, the duties of an officer, dealing with the inmates on a general level. The criminal part of the story was entirely my imagination. I have been asked numerous times if any part of that story was true and the answer is no. None of the events in One on One happened at the prison I worked at.

I don’t really have any rituals. Perhaps if I did I’d have more books written by now. I do like to listen to music when I write. Metallica is my main band if I’m writing horror. Creed if I’m writing something of a more general or spiritual nature.

What style of writing do you enjoy reading yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

My main reading has changed over the years. I love Lord of the Rings, lots of Star Wars books, especially the Heir to the Empire series. Frankenstein is my favorite book hands down. It has such an amazing depth to it that lots of people miss because they equate with the movie but the book is so much better than that.

My favorite writers are Tolkien, Timothy Zahn, Mary Shelly, Mike Battaglia, Stephen King (when he’s not writing long winded garbage like It), Poe and Lovecraft for their short stories along with Ray Bradbury.

If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Mary Shelly, because Frankenstein was such a masterpiece. She created modern horror with her first book. One of the most poignant moments was when the creature, looking only for acceptance, revealed himself to the cottagers only to be cast out. It was then that he became the monster Victor feared him to be.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I just released a collection of short horror stories based in a bed and breakfast called Mr. Smiley (think along the lines of the cryptkeeper type character). I have another collection of short horror in my Fragments of Fear series that I hope to release by next month. I also have my first YA novel in second draft. It’s about the darker side of football seen from the eyes of a 12-year-old boy. After all that, I have my next three sequels to One on One in the works.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?

I know a lot of people say that to write you need to read, but lately I really don’t have the time with all of my writing in the works. There’s nothing I’m looking forward to like I did when the Harry Potter series came out and I went to the store at midnight to get the latest offering. However, I will find time for the latest Timothy Zahn Star Wars book. Thrawn is my favorite character since Darth Vader.

Thank you to Michael for answering my questions, you can read more about him and his work HERE.

 

 

Christopher Tolkien Obituary

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Fans of classic fantasy fiction will be sad to hear of the passing of editor and son of legend J.R.R. Tolkien died at the age of 95 on the 15th January 2020.

A titan in the literary community, Christopher Tolkien’s wit, humour and dedication to literary causes will be much missed by all who knew him and everyone who had the privilege to read anything he wrote or edited.

One of his biggest contributions was to edit and help to posthumously publish unfinished or previously unseen works by his late father, who was famed for his Lord Of The Rings saga.

While his father was alive, Christopher was the youngest member of the Inklings, an informal gathering of fantasy fans and writers. He grew up listening to tales of Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, Legolas, Gimli and the other inhabitants of Middle Earth.

After his father died in 1973, Christopher took on the role of interpreting his often confusing maps of his fictional land and finishing his unpublished work, such as The Silmarillion, a sort of Middle Earth version of the Bible, as well as Unfinished Tales and The History Of Middle Earth.

Alongside these, Christopher also wrote and edited a number of other books, mostly around the topic of fantasy fiction. His works will live on forever in this incredibly popular and world-renowned genre of literature.

In his personal life, Christopher enjoyed two marriages and fathered a number of children, the majority of whom enjoyed cordial relationships with him throughout his life, although some were a little tumultuous.

Overall, Christopher Tolkien will always be remembered as a stalwart J.R.R. Tolkien lover, historian and literary editor whose contributions to the cannon of fantasy fiction will live for the rest of eternity. It’s been a pleasure to read his incredible works and I hope he rests in power.

5 Gripping Political Thrillers Written By Former Politicians Themselves

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As former deputy Labour party leader Tom Watson announces that he’s writing a political thriller following his exit from parliament, I started to think about the other former politicians who’ve drawn on their personal experiences to write thrillers.

These books are often gritty, tense and scary because they’re based on the real-life experiences of these people who have first-hand experience of how countries around the world are lead.

It’s surprising how many politicians choose to write political thrillers, ranging from small fry right all the way up to former presidents. So, if you fancy reading a political thriller created by someone who really knows what they’re talking about, read on!

5. A Very British Coup: Labour MP Chris Mullin’s novel, which was adapted for television and had a sequel, discusses a Labour politician’s rise to become Prime Minister. Once he achieves his dream, he struggles to get his progressive policies past his colleagues and other members of the established order, who quickly conspire against to take him down.

4. Open Arms: A female British politician working in India becomes embroiled with a Billionaire arms tech genius during the middle of deepening political and racial tensions in the country, leading the both of them to question their loyalties. Vince Cable’s thriller is tense and fast-paced, giving readers an intriguing international storyline that evolves and grows with every chapter.

3. House of Cards: You may have heard of the TV series House of Cards, but you might not know that it was based on a book by Conservative politician Michael Dobbs. It follows on from the resignation of Margret Thatcher, and shows the brutal, imagined Conservative party leader election, with members of the party blackmailing, threatening and conniving against one another in a nail-biting thriller that will give you a unique glimpse into the backbiting that goes on behind the closed doors of Number 10 Downing Street.

2. The Pelican Brief: The famed novel that became a popular film, The Pelican Brief tells the story of journalists working to uncover the link between the assassinations of two Supreme Court Justices and the White House. John Grisham is a famous political thriller writer, but he’s also a lawyer, former Democratic member of the House of Representatives and a political activist who’s been working with the American political and justices systems for more than 40 years. As such, his many books are all incredible stories that are accurate representations of these systems and the complicated, often convoluted ways they work.

1. The President Is Missing: Co-authored by former president of the United States Bill Clinton, this is a gritty thriller about a potential cyber threat that keeps on giving. Created by Clinton in collaboration with serial author James Patterson, who brings out about 500 books a year, the novel seems a little pedestrian at times, but it has a lot of twists and turns, meaning it’ll keep any reader on their toes. It is about a President navigating the corridors of power and dealing with the petty jealousies and major insecurities of those who are supposed to support them, but could very well be out to destroy everything.

June Trop Interview: “I thought writing a good mystery would be the greatest challenge”

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This week I speak to June Trop about her Miriam bat Isaac Series, especially her fifth and latest book, The Deadliest Thief. She gives me a guided tour of her work and shares an exclusive piece written in the style of her protagonist.

Please talk me through your background and how you got into writing.

A transplant from New Jersey, I’ve lived in New Paltz, New York in the mid-Hudson Valley for more than thirty years. I began my professional life as a science teacher in New Jersey and moved to New Paltz when I married Paul R. Zuckerman. I taught biology at the local high school before earning a doctorate in science education from Columbia University Teachers College. Then I served as a professor of science teacher education at the State University of New York before retiring to write professionally in 2007.

When taking a course on the historical development of concepts in chemistry, I encountered Maria Hebrea, the first-century alchemist who, living in Alexandria, became the legendary founder of Western alchemy and held her place for 1500 years as the most celebrated woman of the Western World. Years later I would model my protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, on her.

How about your protagonist, can you tell me something about her?

Actually, Miriam is right here and will tell you about herself as long as you swear by Alethia to keep her work a secret:

Times are dangerous here in Roman Alexandria. I am an alchemist, and while the goal of our league is to perfect human life—to heal, extend, and rejuvenate it—we also focus on base metals like copper and iron, to perfect them as well into gold. But that’s where we can get into trouble, big trouble. The emperor is afraid that by synthesizing gold, we will undermine his currency and overthrow the empire. And so, the practice of alchemy, even the possession of an alchemical document, is punishable by the summum supplicium, the most extreme punishment. Like the vilest of criminals, any suspect is summarily crucified, left to hang outside the city gates to serve as an appalling warning to others. And so, when an alchemical document was stolen from my home, I began to practice sleuthing. Now don’t forget: You must swear to keep my alchemical work a secret.

I live in the Jewish Quarter of Alexandria, on the coast and farthest from the main necropolis. So, we inhale the scent of the sea instead of the stench of the embalming workshops. If it’s exceptionally hot or I’m carrying valuables, my bearers take me in a sedan chair to the agora, our central marketplace. Otherwise I walk to the heart of our city, this cloaca of gossip, our venue for seeing and being seen, for hearing and being heard. Approaching the plaza, I feel its vigor filter into my arteries as haranguing hawkers and hucksters, orators and priests, soothsayers and astrologers, tricksters and swindlers, magicians and conjurers, snake charmers and peddlers, wizards and sorcerers promise me a miracle for a price.

But I used to have another reason for going to the agora, and that was to see Judah. I can still dream my way to that first encounter with him, that unexpected ache when I walked into his shop. He raised his lids to look at me and then squared his shoulders with a slow, deep, almost guttural intake of breath and an even slower exhale. That sensation of his nearness, close enough for our air to mingle and for his hand to brush against mine, would ignite my private fantasies.

Tell me about your latest book.

So far, I have written five books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series, all with three-word titles beginning with “The Deadliest…”.

In my latest book, The Deadliest Thief (Black Opal Books, 2019), the only surviving accomplice in a jewel heist vows to kill Miriam and her occasional deputy, the itinerant potbellied dwarf, Nathaniel ben Ruben. At the same time, a kidnapper seizes Miriam’s closest friend, Phoebe, and threatens to butcher her piece by piece. Miriam suspects the events are connected, but can she find her friend before it’s too late?

When Did You Discover Your Love Of Mysteries?

I became addicted to mysteries when, as an eight-year-old girl, I borrowed my first Nancy Drew mystery from a classmate.  Of course, I wanted to be Nancy Drew or at least be a detective just like her. Search as I might though I could find no secret passages, whispering walls, or unclaimed treasures. The only thing I could do was read more mysteries. When I’d read all the Nancy Drews, I graduated to Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Fortunately, with our ever-expanding genre, I’ve never run out of great mysteries to read.

So, What Was It That Made You Decide To Write Your Own Mysteries?

Aside from my own love of mysteries, I thought writing a good mystery would be the greatest challenge. Readers should have access to all the clues to solve the puzzle but, at the same time, be unable to do so. And then, the solution must satisfy. That is, readers should see that the author was fair. And finally, justice should triumph. The writing doesn’t get more challenging than that!

How Did You Turn That Idea Into A Book?

One source for plot ideas is the stories I’ve read or heard about but with a “what if” twist that would suit my characters and setting. Of course, that’s just the beginning of a plot idea. I keep a journal of them. Most of the storylines reach a dead end, but some come alive.

When I’ve fixed on a plot, I make a list of all the scenes to get from the beginning to the end and record the conflict that must occur in each scene to move the story forward. Then I create a subplot or two and insert those scenes where I want to leave the reader hanging for a while. This framework is what I use to flesh out each chapter. And, as a new idea emerges along the way, I insert that idea into the relevant scene or string of scenes.

Of course, that gets you only the first draft. But you really can’t know, really know your story until you’ve finished that first draft. Then the editing begins.

What Are Your Favorite Mystery Books To Read?

I have three: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, and A Long Line of Dead Men by Lawrence Block. I love Doyle’s stories for their atmosphere; Christie’s for their twists; and Block’s for his character Matthew Scudder, the noir streets of New York, and his dialogue. Block makes the written word sound like the spoken word. To me, these three mysteries are like chocolate ice cream. I never get tired of them.

Why Will Readers Enjoy The Deadliest Thief?

My books have won various awards, which include praise for their riveting suspense, their authentic portrayal of life in Roman Alexandria, and for bringing the reader right there. The Deadliest Thief in particular is a puzzle filled with action, a startling twist, and an array of distinctive characters that support Miriam in her pursuit of justice against the thrust of time. Although fifth in the series, The Deadliest Thief, like all the others, stands alone. You can enjoy any of them at any time. So, let Miriam take you into the underbelly of her splendid city to help solve her most baffling case yet.

Do You Have Any Advice For Other Writers?

These precepts guide me. I hope they can bring encouragement to others.

  1. Avoid comparing yourself to other writers. You have your own distinct voice and stories to tell.
  2. Accept your failures and learn from them. In fact, if you’re not getting rejected some of the time, then you’re not taking the chances you need to improve your craft.
  3. Be grateful you have this opportunity to express yourself.

Do You Have Anything To Add?

I welcome visits and comments.

Readers can learn more about The Deadliest Thief and the other books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series and watch the book trailers for each story on my website. I also post a weekly blog about life in Roman Alexandria on Facebook. My books are available in bookstores and online platforms. Readers can easily find them on Amazon. Most of the book trailers are on Youtube here.

Thanks for your time June, it’s been great hearing your thoughts!

Crime Fiction I’m Excited For In 2020

the killings at kingfisher hill

A little late I know, but here are some of my top picks for crime fiction books that’ll be released later this year.

There’s some really great stuff coming out throughout the year, so read on to find see the ones I’m most excited for and find some exciting to put on your reading list.

The Memory Wood: Billed as “the must-read novel of 2020”, Sam Lloyd’s book thriller tells the story of a child who’s abducted and taken to a wood where she meets a young boy, who she thinks is a saviour but quickly turns out to be another sadist. The tale turns into a cat and mouse game that you’ll find hard to put down.

Knife: The latest in Jo Nesbo’s revered Harry Hole series sees his detective in a bad place mentally, when his luck takes another turn for the worse. One of his early collars is out of prison and out for revenge, leaving Harry set to face his past and present in one. I’m a massive fan of the Harry Hole series and can’t wait for the next instalment to see how this dogged detective digs himself out of his latest pit of despair.

The Killings At Kingfisher Hill: Sophie Hannah’s latest reimagining of Agatha Christie’s famed Belgium detective sees the finicky Hercule Poirot travel by luxury passenger coach to Kingfisher Hill, a luxury estate where a woman stands accused of a murder that her fiancé is convinced she didn’t commit. On the way, a strange incident occurs which results in a murder. Poirot will have to use all his ingenuity and imagination to solve the puzzle, which is part of Hannah’s incredible series of books featuring the Queen Of Crime’s most renowned character.

All That’s Dead: Another book in a series, this time Stuart MacBride’s gritty but gripping Logan McRae collection, All That’s Dead looks set to be another smasher. Set in the concrete jungle that is Aberdeen, MacBride’s books often feature actual real world issues, and this latest outing is no exception as McRae handles a case that showcases the still simmering tensions from the Scottish Referendum. A high-profile anti-independence campaigner goes missing, and his case plays a part in the tensions that are being played out in harrowing detail in the country’s media. McRae faces both a professional and a PR challenge as he balances the case with the constant threat of negative media attention.

The Better Liar: Tanen Jones’ thriller, set for release later this month, tells the story of a woman who decides to partner with a stranger who will impersonate her sister so that they can claim an inheritance. The story becomes increasingly complicated, with both women facing up to their lies and striving to be the Better Liar. If you’re a fan of gripping, slow burn thrillers then this is one for you to enjoy during the roaring 20s.

 

Made A Reading Resolution? How To Make Sure You Keep It

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It’s part way through January, and we all know what that means: most of you are already off the wagon.

Whether your resolution was to drink less or lose weight, doubtless you’re already part way into failing. It’s bloody difficult to keep a resolution, particularly when you going back to work and dealing with all the stresses that brings.

Personally, I can’t help with much, but if your resolution involved reading more books in 2020 than ever before, then I’m your gal!

One of the best ways to read more is to simply find books about topic you’re passionate about. There are books out there about everything, from the President of the United States to crime fiction that doesn’t involve murder and everything in between, meaning that you can find something that’ll drive you to read more.

Another option is listening to audiobooks. There’s a lot of debate around at the moment on whether or not audiobooks are really reading. Me, I think that any reading is good reading, and whilst audiobooks are in no way the same as physical books, they’re a great way to learn more on the go.

After all, we’re all busy people, and it’s that lack of time that often kills off New Year’s resolutions before the end of January. Audiobooks are a great way to keep your passion alive and inspire you to want to read more physical books, as well as introducing you to new authors and genres. They can be listened to almost anywhere, meaning that you’ve got no excuse.

If you’re keen to include more physical books on your 2020 reading list, then try keeping a diary of all the books you’ve read this year. That’ll make you more aware of how far you’ve come and everything you’ve read.

You could also invest in some fancy books, like rare or illustrated editions of classics or old favourites that you haven’t read in a while. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if you put your money where your mouth is and invest in something to help you with your resolution, then you’re much more likely to keep it than if you don’t. That’s why loads of people take out pricey gym memberships at this time of the year.

At the end of the day, there’s no hard and fast way to make yourself read more, but if you keep at it then the results will be worth the effort. You’ll have an increased vocabulary and gained knowledge you’d never have if you didn’t read widely and frequently. I hope these tips help and if you think of any of your own that work for you then I’d love to hear about them. Best of luck and happy reading!