Why J.K. Rowling Should Stop Amending The Harry Potter Books

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For those of you who aren’t aware (anyone who’s been living in a cave for about 20 years), J. K. Rowling, one of the world’s most famous living authors and creator of the Harry Potter franchise, has made yet another amendment to her original books.

The initial series spanned seven books, which are among the best children’s fiction ever written, in my humble opinion. They grow with their readers and offer them a unique glimpse into a magical world where you can be pretty much anything you want with a little bit of courage, a lot of determination and a big dash of kindness. Rowling’s hero and his friends overcome adversity whilst at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where they are learning magic.

Thanks to the international appeal of the series, and the pretty much all-round failure of her other ventures, Rowling has continued, over the years, to add to her books and work hard to keep them in the public consciousness. As part of this she set up Pottermore, a website where fans converge and read new short stories, essays and insight into their beloved childhood characters.

However, she has been using the site, and her social media platforms, over recent years to add increasingly outlandish and maddening details to her books. For example, she recently said that before the introduction of Muggle plumbing wizards would simply relieve themselves where they stood and then magically vanish the evidence.

Most recently she has claimed that Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, was gay and in a deeply passionate relationship with a dark wizard barely mentioned in the books, but whose character has developed as a result of her new franchise Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which was also devised to keep the Harry Potter universe current and brining in money. The idea of the character being gay has been mentioned before, but now sexuality is also bought into play with the notion of a ‘passionate’ relationship.

As I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that I don’t believe fully subscribe to the notion that ‘the author is dead’, however I do think that Rowling needs to leave her creations alone. Although she devised the world and wrote the books, they belong to everyone now, and they are deeply entwined with many childhood memories that she is trampling on by constantly embellishing her work over two decades after she first published it.

Another issue I take with her changes to her books is the fact that she is clearly trying to add inclusivity, presumably to bring them up to today’s standards. The fact is, the Harry Potter books were progressive for their time, with a lot of female characters revoking traditional stereotypes, and many differently-abled characters proving that anyone can stand up for what’s right. Despite this, she has felt the need to change this since the publication of her books, for example when she declared that one of her protagonists Hermione could have been black, despite the fact that she is described as pale throughout the books.

Rowling’s most recent revelation, that Dumbledore was gay, comes despite the fact that the character does not have any sexual relationships with any other characters, either male or female, throughout the books. As such, whilst the addition of a gay character into the books would have been really great, the fact that Rowling drops this information after her books are published and popular allows her to seem to progressive but not actually address this in her work.

Alongside the new films in the latest spin-off franchise, merchandise is another key area in which Rowling continues to make money from the Harry Potter series. I recently wrote a post about the issues this poses and why I feel like it doesn’t encourage more people to read, and as such I feel, perhaps a little cynically, that it is simply a money spinning exercise. I understand the need to earn a crust, but I personally feel like it cheapens the books themselves, which were beloved by so many and are a key part of a whole generation’s childhoods.

At the end of the day, Rowling doesn’t need to enhance her books any further; the series is already a worldwide hit. What she should do now is sit back and let her readers carry on her legacy by using their own imaginations to do the work rather than tainting it by constantly adding to it. Also, in a literature and film market saturated with remakes, sequels, prequels and a general lack of imagination, it would be great if Rowling could use her considerable literary talents to create something completely new and inspiring to rival Harry Potter rather than just constantly going back to it. Her detective series and standalone works have not been successful so far, but there is so much more she could do, and perhaps a return to children’s writing in a new series with a new idea could bring back the magic to her work.

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The Beauty Of Re-Reading Old Favourites

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Recently a friend and I got into a conversation about re-reading books. She is adamant that, with so many new and exciting books in the world, there is no point in revisiting an old one when you can check out something new and exciting.

My own opinion, however, is pretty much the exact opposite. Whilst I love reading new books and discovering something completely unexpected, I feel there is definitely some to be said about re-reading books you particularly like or ones you don’t think you fully understood or appreciated on the first go.

After all, you can pick up nuances in the text which you didn’t notice the first time. Also, I personally can’t remember books I read years ago in great detail, so re-reading is a great way to reconnect with books whose beauty and majesty I’ve forgotten.

For those who struggle to finish books they don’t like or simply can’t connect with for whatever reason, re-reading can be great as you know you’re going to definitely make it through and enjoy the book. I often get the same way with films; on some weekends when I’m busy and I only have a couple of hours to watch some TV before going out I tend to re-watch something rather than check out something new as I know I’ll love the film I’ve already seen, whereas I might not like my new choice. I know I’ll be able to check the new film out when I have more time, but when I’ve only got a set number of hours I tend to focus on making sure I definitely enjoy myself. Sometimes it’s the same with books, and that’s OK.

Personally I try to revisit certain books, such as Pride and Prejudice and Colin Dexter’s best novel The Way Through The Woods at least once a year if I have chance, whilst at the same time making sure that I read new books afterwards and before so that I get a good mix of new surprises and old favourites. There’s nothing wrong with re-reading books and frankly, as long as you’re reading anything then you’re doing great in my book.

The Secret Child Review: Another Tense Thriller From Caroline Mitchell

The Secret Child

Following on from Caroline Mitchell’s gripping novel Truth and Lies comes the second in the DI Amy Winter series The Secret Child. Having reviewed the first in the series previously I was keen to take part in Mitchell’s latest blog tour to find out more about the second outing for this dogged and troubled detective.

In the follow-up to the thrilling first novel in her series, which will hopefully be a long one, Winter is still reeling from the news that she is the daughter of a pair of sadistic serial killers and the horrible experiences of her previous case.

Despite this she has no time to grieve as she is thrust straight into another in the form of an investigation into a horrific abduction with a sadistic twist. When another child is snatched Winter faces a race against time which sends her straight back to the one person she wished she’d never have to speak to again: her serial killer mother.

Showcasing her strong characterisation skills and her unique ability to create engaging emotional scenes Mitchell brings this frightening tale to life in her latest novel. Her characters are evolved and emotionally entangled without being annoyingly sappy, and the reader is quickly immersed in the entwined tales of the kidnap and Winter’s relationship with her psychotic mother.

Being a police officer gives Winter access to the case in full, as well as access to a myriad of other insider information and as such her manipulative mother wants a quid pro quo in return for advice on the topic she knows most about: the mind of a depraved child kidnapper.

Having enjoyed both novels I desperately hope that there’s more where this came from. I loved Truth and Lies and The Secret Child was just as thrilling and gritty, so hopefully Mitchell will bring her talent for tension and passion for the police procedural back in the future!

 

 

A Perfect Explanation Review: A Haunting Historical Human Drama

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Another blog tour post for you today, this time a review of a gripping historical book depicting real-life events from a fresh perspective.

A real life story that is almost too mind-boggling to be true, Eleanor Anstruther’s A Perfect Explanation tells the story of Enid Campbell, the author’s grandmother, who sold her son Ian, Anstruther’s father, to her aunt Joan for £500 in the 1930s.

The book is incredibly rich in human emotion and, as the author explains in the epilogue, is designed to turn these half-remembered caricatures from her family’s past into living, breathing, thinking entities.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the women involved: be it Enid herself, in both the 1960s, when she lives in a nursing home awaiting a visit from the son she sold and across the year leading up to his sale, as well as her daughter, who was not sold but still feels the burden it placed on her family, as well as Joan herself, who is coming to terms with the challenging fate her sister has thrust upon her.

This approach ensures that the reader is able to view the complex drama that unfolds through numerous perspectives, helping them to feel empathy and understanding. With such a personal connection to such an emotive and upsetting case, Anstruther could easily have created a take-down of her grandmother, but instead she wrote a unique and deeply moving book which explores her motives and those of the other players in the tragedy.

Throughout the book Anstruther perfectly combines human drama and emotion with evocative settings and haunting description. Each individual comes alike thanks to the writer’s skilful descriptions and human-focused narrative, which hones in on each member of the family and brings them to vivid life.

In all I was incredibly impressed by this moving portrayal of human suffering, mental illness, obsession and parenthood, and I think anyone who enjoys books of any genre that are rich in human emotion will too.

 

The Widening Gyre Review: A Modern Sci-Fi Epic

the widening gyre

The debut novel from Michael R. Johnston, The Widening Gyre, creates an entire empire peopled by numerous species in just over 200 pages. A sci-fi epic that makes the genre accessible to even those who aren’t die-hard fans, this is a detailed and intriguing novel that packs a punch.

The story follows Tarjen Hunt, a member of the human race now living in an empire run by the Zhen, a proud race who distrust and mistreat humans after they saved them. The human race was on board a ship travelling away from earth when it got damaged and had to be rescued. In author Johnston’s portrayal of the future earth is now just a distant memory, and humans now live as part of the empire in uneasy truce with their hosts.

Tarjen is a war hero turned wheeler-dealer travelling space hauling parts around for the empire after a personal tragedy alienated him from his family. When his estranged brother sends him a message begging for help, and then promptly dies, Tarjen and his newly acquired crew go on a dangerous quest to follow a path which they believe will take them back to earth.

Mistreated and overtaxed by the Zhen, the humans are considered an inferior race in the empire, and as such they are eager to reclaim their homeland and uncover the truth about their history. But Tarjen and his team face stiff opposition from ruling Zhen and a number of other dissidents as they battle to find his brother’s clues and uncover the path back to earth.

Written in the first person as a sort of ship’s log combined with a diary, Johnston’s narrative shows Tarjen’s personal opinions on each situation he’s in, building characterisation and driving tension as the plot hurtles towards a fascinating conclusion. Also Johnston gets a lot of love from me for integrating a gay protagonist and a lot of female characters into a genre traditionally not known for its representation. He does it in a very respectful way that isn’t too self-congratulatory, and as such this is a great victory for those looking for literature with more representation.

Overall this is a great debut from Johnston, who has built a unique world and created a fast-paced adventure within it. The Widening Gyre is great not just for science fiction fans but for those who enjoy thrilling, action-packed reads that will keep them captivated from start to finish.

Brave Review: A Masterpiece for the #MeToo Movement

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If you only read one book in 2019, make it Brave by Rose McGowan. A unique and insightful memoir, the book tells the incredible story of McGowan’s fascinating and frightening life in her own words.

Prior to reading her memoir I had no real opinion on McGowan. I’d enjoyed a few of her films and Charmed, and I disagreed with a few of the comments she’d made in the media and agreed heartily with others, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Brave. One of my key motivations for requesting a place on her blog tour was my fascination with her comments on feminism and her spearheading of the #MeToo movement. These are important actions and I was keen to find out more about the person behind them.

One very important aspect of Brave is the fact that, from the very beginning, McGowan makes it clear that she is in no way trying to influence the reader to be like her. You don’t have to shave your head to be come free. What you need to do is evaluate your choices. McGowan is telling us that our choices are valid only if they are genuinely ours. If you want long hair, have it. If you want short hair, you do you. If you want to shave your head then go right on. But if you are being influenced by a society telling you that short hair is the best, or you are hiding yourself away behind your waterfall of cascading locks, then you need to evaluate your choices and decide if they are genuinely your own.

What I enjoyed most about this brutally honest portrayal of a hard and frightening life is that McGowan repeatedly shows great empathy, and is keen to reiterate time and again that her experiences are no worse than those of others, and make her no better than anyone else. She expresses the fact that, had she not been white, she would’ve had a far worse time and not received the opportunities she did, and she even forgives an actor who sprayed a water bottle into her crotch without her consent when she was a young actress. She pins most of the blame for the sexual assaults and brutality she received on the patriarchal society that allowed this pattern of behaviour.

Despite the challenges she has faced and the disgusting treatment she has received, McGowan is not bitter. She understands the cycles that often lead to abuse being perpetrated by those who have been mistreated themselves, and as such she doesn’t blame anyone for her tough life. She is, however, exceptionally angry against the systems and patriarchy that put her in the positions she was in. She can’t abide excuses and she is quick to retaliate against those who still believe their behaviour was justified or who claim ignorance of assaults perpetrated under their noses.

This anger manifests itself in the form of top-class swearing: the kind of swearing ordinary folk can only dream of. Inserted into lengthy descriptions of disgusting miscarriages of justice or acting as angry exclamations against those who have wronged her, McGowan’s language is evocative and emotional. Her expressions are raw and unashamed, and frankly it feels like a true honour to be able to read her experiences in her own words and learn the horrors, heartaches and triumphs she has experienced.

Among the book’s most harrowing scenes is when McGowan depicts her rape by the former head of Miramax Studios, whom she labels ‘The Monster” or ‘The Pig Monster”. Her depiction is so vivid I screamed whilst reading it, and was genuinely frightened for many hours afterwards. It is angry, raw, brutal and honest, and for that I heartily commend McGowan- if it was tough to read then I cannot possibly imagine how hard it must’ve been to write and to relive.

There are times when McGowan, despite the sensitive nature of her subject matter and the harrowing details of some of the traumas she has faced, is deeply, darkly funny, mocking both herself and the situations she has faced, some of which are utterly absurd. From being born into a cult called the Children of God in Italy to fleeing to America where she battled homelessness, drug abuse and anorexia, among other challenges, there is plenty to be bitter and sorry for about in McGowan’s story, but she is neither: her approach to challenge is refreshing and intriguing.

She is particularly scathing about bullies and online trolls, and another great aspect of Brave is the fact that McGowan repeatedly points out the mental healthy implications that words have, driving readers to consider the importance of remembering the mental health of both themselves and those they interact with. Such a frank conversation about mental health and the affects that even simple dismissals can have is refreshing and, again, vitally important.

Anyone who knows me personally will know that in my mad life I’ve had some slightly comparable experiences to McGowan. I’m not going to go into it here because this isn’t about me, but I will say this: reading Brave was the first time I’ve ever felt truly heard. I struggle to articulate my experiences, feelings and situations I’ve gotten myself into as a result of my fear. McGowan expresses her own versions of these issues perfectly in a way that is easily identifiable but at the same time completely unique and respectful of everyone’s individual experiences.

So, to finish as I started, I would like to implore you to read Brave, even if it is the only book you read over the next 12 months. McGowan’s focus is to make you sit up and listen: to drive you to explore the art you take in, be it in any form, and how it affects your mind-set and views. This may be a memoir, but it is filled with important, frank and honest conversations that need to be had in today’s society. This is more than a discussion on the life of an actress: this is an exploration of patriarchy, mental health, rape, homelessness and abuse, and I would urge you to read it and take its key messages of hope, honest, integrity and support on board.

Paula Williams Interview: “It was the proudest moment of my life when I was accepted as a full member of the Crime Writers’ Association!”

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Murder mystery writer Paula Williams shares some insights into her work and the influences behind it.

Tell me about the books you write. Why do you have such a passion for crime fiction in particular?

At the moment I’m writing a series of murder mysteries, set in a small Somerset village called Much Winchmoor. The village is fictional but bears an uncanny resemblance to the one I live in, although as far as I know, there are no murderers among my friends and neighbours.

I do, indeed, have a passion for crime fiction. It’s my favourite genre and they do say you should write the kind of story you like to read, don’t they? I don’t like too much graphic violence and am not comfortable being inside a serial killer’s head. So my books are in the ‘cosy’ category, although that makes them sound a bit pink and fluffy which they are not.

My heroine, Kat, is young and sassy. She’s one of the ‘boomerang’ generation, forced by financial problems to return to the village in which she grew up – and feeling as out of place there as ‘a canary at a cat show’ (her words, not mine!). She would leave tomorrow but for two things. Firstly, she can’t afford it. Secondly, her on/off romance with her childhood friend, Will, a farmer whose family have been in Much Winchmoor since the days when Judge Jeffreys scoured the West Country looking for rebels to hang, draw and quarter after the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685. Will is as much a part of Much Winchmoor as the village duck pond and this is part of Kat’s dilemma. Should she give up on her dream of a proper career in the media… or give up on the man who, she sometimes thinks, is the love of her life? My Much Winchmoor series can be summed up as murder mysteries, sparkling with humour and sprinkled with romance.

What was the first crime fiction novel you read and how did it draw you into seeking out more books of this genre?

My mother introduced me to Agatha Christie when I was about 12 and I have loved her books ever since. I then went on to discover Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers and all the writers of that golden age of crime fiction. I’ve been reading and enjoying a wide variety of crime fiction ever since.

It was the proudest moment of my life when I was accepted as a full member of the Crime Writers’ Association! Imagine me, in the same company as the likes of Ian Rankin, Peter James et al! I still have to pinch myself – although I remind myself that while they are top of the Premiership, I am probably lurking around the bottom of Third Division South.

Please tell me about your background. How did you get into writing and publishing your work?

I have always written but I began selling my work about 12 years ago when I started writing short stories for women’s magazines. I really enjoyed writing the ‘twist in the tail’ stories, where the writer deliberately misleads the reader and they sold so well that I realised that the same misdirection technique could be used to write crime stories. So I started writing longer stories and serials and soon found I enjoyed writing crime fiction as much as I enjoyed reading it. During that time I sold over 400 stories and serials in the UK and overseas.

But the world of women’s magazines has changed hugely in the last decade. When I started writing for them, there were 14 different magazines in the UK that published fiction. Now, it’s a mere handful, and so I started thinking about branching out into full-length novels. I’d already sold several ‘pocket’ novels, which are now in Large Print so it was just a small step from that to writing a full-length novel.

After a bit of Internet research I found my present publisher, Crooked Cat Books, who were accepting unsolicited submissions at the time. They published the first in the Much Winchmoor Series, Murder Served Cold in October 2018 and the second, Rough and Deadly, is coming out in April 2019. I am currently writing the third, with the provisional title of Burying Bad News. And have plans for more.

I also write a column in the UK magazine Writers’ Forum. Called Ideas Store, it focuses on where writers get their ideas. I have been writing this column for over eleven years now and still enjoy asking the question that every writer is said to dread.   ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ So far, no one has refused to answer it.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

The Much Winchmoor series are written in the first person. This does not make it easy as it means that every scene I write has to be from Kat’s viewpoint, which can be a bit restricting. But when I started writing Murder Served Cold, I just couldn’t ‘get’ the tone of it to start with. It just didn’t feel right. So I switched from third person to first and as soon as I did, Kat began talking to me (and at me) and hasn’t stopped since.

She has such a strong voice and her snippy comments are so much an integral part of her personality that I’m afraid I’m stuck with it. Although I do have a few scenes from the murderer’s viewpoint sometimes – and yes, I know I said I didn’t enjoy being in a murderer’s head but they are very brief scenes! And they really help to ratchet up the tension.

Setting also plays a huge part in my Much Winchmoor stories. Kat is living in this pretty, chocolate box village that has more holiday homes than affordable housing. It looks, and sounds, lovely but the reality of living in a small rural community is far from idyllic, particularly for young people.

What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

Where do I start? I have always read very widely and one of the things I’ve enjoyed since becoming a Crooked Cat author is reading books by my fellow ‘Cats’.   I am now a huge fan of Alice Castle, Joan Livingston, Val Penny, Catherine Fearns to name just a few.

I also enjoy Michael Wood’s Matilda Darke series, Angela Marsons’ Kim Stone series (although I have to skip through some of the scary bits!) and anything written by Ann Cleeves. Then there’s Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway and Damien Boyd’s Nick Dixon series which are all set in my lovely corner of Somerset.

I also love MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series and was very flattered when one lovely Amazon reviewer said that Agatha Raisin fans would enjoy my books. I really, really hope she’s right. I’m not sure if these authors influence my writing. Except to make me want to work hard at my craft so that one day I might become as good as they are.

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

Goodness, this is a tricky one! I would learn such a lot from Agatha Christie about plotting but I think I’d be so overwhelmed by her that I’m afraid wouldn’t contribute much to the process.

Then I thought about my twelve year old granddaughter who has the most fantastic imagination. The story lines she comes up with are way better than any of mine. She is also a very accomplished (and dedicated) ice skater and is up several mornings a week to be on the ice before 6am! I would love to use her knowledge to set a story in the incredibly competitive world of figure skating. Maybe I will one day – if she doesn’t beat me to it first.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

At the moment I am working on the third book in my Much Winchmoor series. Looking ahead a bit further, I would love to write a new series set in West Dorset. I grew up on the Dorset/Somerset border and West Bay was just a cycle ride away (I was a lot fitter in those days ) while, for many years, my dad had a boat which he kept at Lyme Regis – one of my favourite places in the world.

We came within a whisker of selling our present home and moving to West Dorset a few years ago but had to give up on that particular dream. Writing a book (or, better still, a series of books) based in the area would be the next best thing to actually living there.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I wait eagerly for each new Elly Griffiths and Angela Marsons. They both have really strong yet vulnerable women at the heart of their stories and I love seeing how they develop as the series progress. I would love to think that one day someone would be saying the same about my Kat. Who knows?

Do you have anything to add?

Just a very big thank you for such an interesting set of questions. I have really enjoyed working my way through them. I blog about my writing (and, sometimes, my beautiful rescue dog, a handsome Dalmatian called Duke) and often feature other authors at paulawilliamswriter.wordpress.com

My Facebook author page is https://www.facebook.com/paula.williams.author. Twitter. @paulawilliams44. Website. paulawilliamswriter.co.uk

Murder Served Cold is available to buy at mybook.to/murderservedcold. Rough and Deadly will be available to pre-order shortly and will be published on April 30th.

Thanks ever so much Paula for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s been a real pleasure.