What I’ve Done This Month #November…

I started November with good intentions. The plan was to get up a couple of hours early each morning so that I had some quiet time to do some writing, before I went to work. Well I did that for a couple of days before I fell off that particular wagon. It’s not the greatest plan, but I have done it before, and it would work if I had some willpower.

In the brief time I spent with my horror tale about Alexa, I did decide upon a new name for it, which saves me getting into any trouble from Amazon for infringing upon their trademarked tech… but I did little else of any substance.

I’m busy at work as well, and usually too beat when I get home to put on my creative boots. On my days off – especially at this time of year – I’m thinking about Christmas… or, at least, whatever that amounts to this time around.

Like most people I just want to be done with 2020, even if there’s no promise the next calendar will be any better, because sometimes just the act of turning that imaginary page is all the encouragement a person needs.

Good Times! – Review…

Justin Lee Collins was a television personality for a small window of time in a small corner of the world, and as such there will only be a small cross-section who are familiar with much of his work. If you were asleep between 2005 and 2010, and you didn’t live in the UK, you probably don’t know who the hell he is.

I really enjoyed the stuff that he produced – whether it was his on-screen rapport with Alan Carr, or his infectious excitement at meeting the heroes of his youth. He seemed to be a genuinely likeable guy. Of course, he has completely fallen off the radar in the last few years, but a lot of that is of his own making…

This is not a particularly well written autobiography (and you can certainly tell that he wrote it), but Collins does tell a few interesting and moderately amusing anecdotes in between detailing his rise to some kind of C-list fame in the early 2000s.

I don’t know if we’ll ever see Collins on our screens again, and – domestic problems aside – it would be a shame if he is gone for good, because as a face on our televisions, he was one of the best in recent memory.

What I’ve Done This Month #October…

Early in the month I started writing a horror tale about Alexa, the smart device. I put the first few hundred words down when I got a break from work and have the whole story playing out in my head, so I know exactly where I’m going with it. I think it should be a good one. It’s tentatively titled Not Alexa.

I submitted my flash piece, I Lost My Wife Down the Back of the Sofa, to the monthly contest over at Secret Attic – probably some time in September – and although it didn’t win they have included it in their printed collection of short-listed entries. They didn’t tell me this, of course, but it’s nice to see my name online again.

The rest of the month has been about raising kittens (because I became a father a couple of weeks ago) and looking for a new car (because the MOT this time around just about bankrupted me). Those two things stole a lot of my limited spare time towards the end of the month. Even reading has proven to be a problem because Tess will sleep anywhere…

Skeleton Crew – Overview…

Skeleton Crew came out in 1985 and was the second collection of short stories Stephen King published. Overall, it is a decent book, although if I had to put it side by side with Night Shift, it would probably come up a little short. It also feels less cohesive than that first book – more a bunch of stories put together than anything truly united. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

I recommended fifteen of the twenty-two pieces on offer in Skeleton Crew, and if you take away the two pieces of poetry (which probably shouldn’t count towards the total anyway) that’s fifteen out of twenty. 75% is a pretty good win rate, although it’s not quite as good a number as I posted for Night Shift.

Of the five pieces I didn’t recommend, Beachworld fared the poorest. Sci-fi is a tough sell for me, and this did nothing to change my opinion on the genre. I’m sure there’s something in here for those who enjoy that kind of thing, but that ain’t me.

If I had to choose, I would say the best stories here are The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet (which has the advantage of added detail, being a novella), The Mist (which is even longer), monster horror story, The Raft and the thought-provoking Survivor Type fighting it out for the top four spots.

So, the trend is slighty downward, but it’s a good read and still a lot better than a lot of other collections out there.

Cat Post…

Some are cat people; some are dog people. I’m a dog guy. I’ve had a lot of them. My parents used to foster them, so we had a lot until such time as they found a more permanent home. Oddly however, I’ve not had any dogs since childhood.

I’ve never owned a cat. I don’t dislike them. I just generally prefer the personality and nature of a dog. It’s just as I said – you’re one or the other, aren’t you?

Until now.

Tomorrow The Fiancée© and I are taking a trip to collect a couple of eight week old kittens. Cats are her thing, but she hasn’t had any for many years. For a long time I resisted her requests, but I guess I mellowed during lockdown because all of a sudden we’re getting two of them!

We struggled to come up with names, but eventually we landed on…

Tess

… and…

Frankie

Skeleton Crew #22 – The Reach…

13440Word count – 8,700

The Reach is about the narrow (and mysterious) stretch of water between mainland USA and the island where the story begins. Stella, an old grandmother nearing death, has never crossed it, but once it freezes over she decides it’s time to do so.

Along the way Stella meets various people from her past, and they help her transition from this life to the next. It’s all very deep and meaningful, but unfortunately I was neither engaged nor all that interested in what King was telling me.

Maybe that’s on me, or perhaps it’s the fault of the author. Either way, the final short story in the collection is not what I wanted it to be.

Not Recommended

What I’ve Done This Month #September…

It’s finally done. All of my writing (going back as far as I can) is now printed and filed, and all of those folders are dated and looking rather cool atop my bookcase. It’s nice to have everything there – primarily as a back up in case my laptop dies and can’t be resuscitated, but also as a cool visual, and a tangible history of my work.

Now there’s no real excuse not to be getting on with the new stuff.

A couple of weeks ago I had an idea for a dark story about Alexa. You know, Amazon’s virtual assistant. It just seemed to hit me, although I don’t know where it came from. Anyway, I ended up doing a lot of the legwork while I was sitting on my two day training course… which was handy, because since then I’ve not had the time or energy to actually begin writing it properly. I’ve got some free time over the weekend, so hopefully I’ll get something done then.

Several of the writing contests I entered in September close today, so if I’ve placed in any of those I’ll likely hear about it in the next couple of weeks. Even making a shortlist would be nice as it’s been a while since I’ve had any competition bright spots.

Fingers and toes crossed.

Skeleton Crew #21 – The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet…

Word count 20,800

The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet is about a writer who has written the titular tale. The story that we read however, is about the author’s descent into madness, as told through the eyes of a magazine editor.

This novella is told campfire-style, a formula I am noticing that King employs a lot. It doesn’t always work, as it gives you a (potentially) unreliable narrator, and means you are once-removed from the action, but I have no complaints about it here. Besides, it’s an approach that has served him well.

If we take The Mist out of the equation (because that’s really a short novel in its own right), The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet is the longest piece in Skeleton Crew, but for all its length it’s also one of the most straightforward and engaging. It is slightly let down by the final few pages, but otherwise, it is a very enjoyable read.

Recommended ⇑

Back on the Payroll…

I’m on the first day of a two-day training course, which makes this my first day of actual work in very nearly six months. I had to get up at 7am for an 8.30am start, but that still feels like mid-morning when I used to be halfway through my shift by then.

Of course, there are teething problems with the training, and the class has now been pushed by an hour or so, so I’m taking the opportunity to post this. It would seem that while a lot of things have changed recently, some things – like delays and red tape – have not.

So, this is the beginning of a new chapter. If I’m honest, I don’t want this one to last very long – I want something different; something better – but in this Covid world, beggars and choosers and all that.

Oddly, I always did more writing when I was working full-time as well, so that’s a bonus I can look forward to. I have a few new ideas that I’ve been mulling over for a while now, so I’ll probably be able to get them fleshed out a little over the weekend.

So Far… – Review…

sofar00kelsKelsey Grammer starred in two of the most successful sitcoms of all time, in Cheers and then its spin-off Frasier. He played the same character on TV for over two decades, and that is how the vast majority of us know the actor.

But this autobiography – which is fairly short and for context, was published not long after Frasier began – focuses mostly on his work prior to becoming the household name that he is today, and the relationships that he had along the way.

He details many of the hardships that he had to endure during the early part of his life, before anyone really knew who he was. When Kelsey was twelve years old his estranged father was murdered during a home invasion. When he was twenty, his younger sister (whom he was extremely close to) was abducted, raped, and murdered after being stabbed forty-two times. Five years after that, his two half-brothers died in a scuba-diving accident.

A lot of this is heartbreaking stuff, and it is no wonder that he suffered from substance abuse problems later in his life. But to his credit Kelsey makes no excuses for his much-publicised drug and alcohol addictions. Instead, he has used all of these touchpoints and tragedies in his life to become a better person.

If you pick this up hoping for some insight into the character of Dr. Frasier Crane, you may come away a little disappointed. There is some of that, with some backstage anecdotes, but that isn’t what this is about. Like Crane, Kelsey comes across as an intelligent, eloquent man, and this is an interesting read you can quickly tick off your list.